Friday, December 05, 2008

Education, relationships and increasing trust reduce re-offending in Slovenia

Slovenia, one of the smallest EU member states, is promoting increased relationships and trust as critical components of strategies to reduce of re-offending. With strong leadership and an ethos that promotes a belief that offenders can change, innovative programmes are being delivered both in custody and the community.

A small new community prison in Koper currently has 130 prisoners and 68 staff. Built next to a major shopping area at cost of Eur 8.1 m, both remand and convicted prisoners live in an environment that clearly supports positive change. Following motivation and assessment work, with the support of local employers and Social Service agencies, 47 prisoners experience semi-open conditions, undertaking work in the community on a daily basis. After demonstrating a desire to stop offending and to change their thinking, others are also given the opportunity to join their peers and to participate in similar schemes.

Being local, visiting and support of families is made easy. With weekly group meetings between prisoners and specially trained staff, and monthly meetings with the senior management team (including the Director), all serve to enhance communication, understanding and relationships. Knowing all the prisoners within his care, the Director of the prison sees these meetings as a critical feature of life in his prison. Of particular note, prison officer training lasts for 6 months and all staff recognise their important role in helping prisoners to change. Recidivism is currently assessed as approximately 40%.

Another institution at Redece works with adolescents and young men and women offenders, aged 14 - 23 years. Although referrals are made by the courts, it is not seen as a prison. Rather it is described as a 'Home for the re-education of offenders'. Whilst the institution includes a secure building, the environment is not one of cells and incarceration. Rather it provides a managed and constructive community learning environment with a focus upon academic, life, health, social, communication and vocational skills.

With a capacity of 68, the young people are organised in small groups, each led by parent educators. Living in accommodation areas, each with 2-4 bedrooms, a living room, kitchenette and bathroom, the young people are supported and coached to look after themselves and each other.

As within Koper prison, there is a firm belief that given the right environment, support and individual education opportunities, young people can and do change. The low re-offending rates clearly support this view.

Of note, the institution is very similar to the C-FAR model that the Directors of Life Change UK established in Devon. Unfortunately, owing to a lack of funding from the UK's Justice System, C-FAR was forced to close in 2005.

At the other end of the spectrum is Visnja Gora, a co-educational residential school working with boys and girls aged 14 - 23 years who have been excluded from school and become involved in various levels of criminal activity and substance missus. Referrals to the school are made by the courts and social services with the provision being paid for by the Ministry of Education.

It is truly a unique and innovative concept providing young people with what is described as a positive and permissive learning environment during which mistakes are seen as a means of promoting continuous learning. All staff are again highly qualified and trained. Of particular note, following the positive outcomes achieved, many local families now send their children to the school, promoting increased community understanding and social inclusion.

Whilst the latter two establishments are more expensive than more recognised offender institutions, the positive outcomes undoubtedly achieve long-term savings when set against re-offending and the associated ongoing costs. All three models are truly refreshing and set a standard in interventions that other countries would do well to study urgently and replicate.