Last week, Ukraine celebrated its fifth anniversary of probation with a first open forum. Probation was largely unheard of in Ukrainian society but has now set foot in the criminal justice system with the help of peers from the Netherlands and Latvia. At this week’s forum the first successes were shared, including a story that won’t easily be forgotten.
In 2015, the Ukrainian parliament adopted a law providing the legal basis for the creation of a fully-fledged probation service and the possibility to introduce alternative sanctions for minor offences. Probation is a system of sanctioning without imprisonment. It is meant to offer offenders guidance and support to change their lives for the better and prevent them from becoming recidivists.
The forum, which was organized with support of CILC and NHC, brought together approximately 200 participants, ranging from public authorities such as the Ministry of Justice and the probation service to the judiciary, prosecution service and civil society representatives. Experts shared their insights to encourage a dialogue on the value of probation and alternative sanctions. Research has shown that the prospect of preventing repeated crime is much higher for probation than long-term imprisonment.
Grygoriy Tonkyi grabbed the audience’s attention in particular. Growing up in challenging circumstances, Grygoriy got trapped in a vicious cycle of addiction, petty crime and prison sentences. Recently, a judge decided to offer him an opportunity to break out of the cycle by sentencing him to probation. Grygoriy, now a probation volunteer himself, explained that this not only provided him a chance at a better life. It also provided society with an active contributing citizen.
The Dutch ambassador applauded the contribution of CILC and NHC to probation in Ukraine, which has been ongoing since 2017. By bringing together Ukrainian prosecutors and judges with their Dutch peers and organizing practical skills trainings, probation has been pushed forward. In addition, the probation service is supported with workshops and advice on communications. Through the involvement of Latvian expertise on public relations, the Ukrainian probation service can learn from a country that started a similar journey only twenty years ago.
There is perhaps still a lot of work to be done in Ukraine: raising awareness among judges, prosecutors and the general public, updating laws and regulations and finetuning work processes, but progress has definitely been made which gives hope for the future. As CILC Deputy Director Eric Vincken concluded: ‘This is the moment in time when Ukraine can make a difference. Ukraine can move from a penal criminal justice system to a system with attention for rehabilitation and resocialization, ultimately contributing to a bright future for the country’.
Photos by Netherlands Helsinki Committee