By Lino Brosius
Since 2008 judges in Montenegro can impose conditional prison sentences and community service sentences for minor offenses, including law and order breaches, shoplifting, traffic violations, and light cases of violence. Prosecutors and judges increasingly resort to these options in administering justice, hence contributing to the reduction of prison overcrowding and recidivism, and – in case of a community service sentence – enhancing a visible society payback of offenders.
Between 7 and 9 February in Herceg Novi, Montenegro a third workshop took place for first instance criminal judges and probation officers about pre-trial advice and the practical implementation of community service sentences. The discussion of an anonymised translated pre-trial advisory report showed how useful these reports can be. They generate a better understanding of the criminogenic factors and personal circumstances of the accused, they can considerably shorten the hearing, and they enable the judges to ask specific and detailed questions.
The selected group of Montenegrin judges sided with their colleagues who attended the previous workshops, indicating that these kind of reports by the probation service would be a very welcome addition to their case files. This notion was also shared by their colleagues of the prosecution service in a workshop held in Podgorica in November 2016.
The formulation of community service sentences was also high on the agenda during the 2-day workshop in Herceg Novi. Although the Montenegrin Criminal Code provides the option for a broad use of the community service sentence, the legislation in its current form also has its shortcomings, most visibly in relation to the terms and requirements for this penalty. A community service sentence in Montenegro can easily miss its mark, because of 1) the short implementation period (6 months), 2) the limited implementation time per month (60 hours), and 3) the large number of imposable hours (360).
One of the ideas behind using alternative sanctions for minor crimes and offenses is that the penalty is tailored to the offender and that there is no collateral damage. In light of the above-mentioned limitations in the legal framework, judges in Montenegro need to be extra cautious when they impose a community service sentence, as it can easily become undoable and just as disruptive as a prison sentence (including an offender who loses his/her job, income, apartment, and ability to provide for his/her family and children).
The project team has been advising the Montenegrin Ministry of Justice to amend paragraphs 2 and 3 of Article 41 of the Montenegrin Criminal Code. However, legislative amendment processes usually are long-term. Still, judges can already contribute to making community service sentences work better by lowering the imposed amount of hours.
In order to add showing to telling, the group, as a last part in the workshop, paid a visit to the home for children without parental care Mladost in Bijela. Deputy Director Marela Savic shared her experiences with the probation service regarding the implementation of community service sentences. Mladost has been providing workplaces for people sentenced to a community service for over two years. Marela Savic explained how a community service sentence can have very good results, both for society and for the offender.
 Please see paragraphs 2 and 3 of article 41 of the MNE Criminal Code.