Preparing prisoners for release: the Bila Tserkva Center unique experience

Among the main penitentiary activity tasks of the world's leading countries is the effective preparation of convicts for release from prisons. Because their adaptation to further life after the loss of socially useful ties, with possible absence of housing, profession and even proper education is quite difficult.

Quite often, all sorts of "life trifles" and difficulties in efforts to restore their status become reasons for return of former prisoners to criminal path. To prevent it is one of the main priorities of the national penitentiary system. Although Ukraine does not yet have full-fledged effective practices to help prisoners to prepare well for release, some steps have already been taken.
The Bila Tserkva Penitentiary Staff Training Centre of the Ukraine State Penitentiary Service (hereinafter referred to as the Bila Tserkva Center) and the Bila Tserkva Correctional Colony № 35 have been successfully implementing the issues of preparing convicts for release for several years in a row. The project "Further Support for Penitentiary Reform in Ukraine" of the Framework Program for Cooperation between the Council of Europe and the European Union for the Eastern Partnership countries provided a unique start for this cooperation.


In the photo: expert of the Council of Europe John McGakin, Martin Seddon and the Ukraine State Penitentiary Service Vitaliy Khvedchuk discuss areas of cooperation within the project "Further support for penitentiary reform in Ukraine"

It is aimed to introduce European standards of prison management, the paradigm of re-socialization of convicts and their preparation for life after release, into the work of penitentiary institutions (hereinafter penitentiaries). Publication of the manual "Social and Life Skills Courses for Prisoners" by Martin Seddon, Council of Europe Expert on Probation, and Alla Shut, National Council of Europe Expert, became one of the implemented project tasks.


In the photo: (from left to right): The Bila Tserkva Correctional Colony Head (№35) Yevhen Ponochovnyi, The First Deputy Head of the Bila Tserkva Center – the Education Department Head Alla Hryhorenko, the Bila Tserkva Center Head Oleh Duka, the International Project "Further Support to Penitentiary Reform in Ukraine" Manager Olga Sandakova and Council of Europe expert John McGakin discuss ways to implement the project

The popularity of "Social and Life Skills Courses for Prisoners" in European prisons and their introduction in most Eastern European countries testify that it is a leading component of the process of preparing prisoners for release, as it helps to successfully integrate into society.


In the photo: Iryna Doroshenko, a teacher of the psychological and pedagogical disciplines cycle, conducts a role play for Correctional Colony № 35 convicts within the curriculum "Development of social and life skills in convicts"

Based on the given in it advice, the Bila Tserkva Center educators, by their own efforts and on a voluntary basis, created a training program "Development of social and life skills in convicts" for about 3 months duration. It consists of 13 classes, where almost all life situations which can happen to prisoners, are offered.
Among them – "Communicating with family and friends", "Finding a job", "Do not be angry – be persistent", "Personal problems", "Finding a dwelling", "How to become a valuable employee", "Staying in prison", "Adaptation to freedom", "Avoidance of offenses after release", "How to become a law-abiding citizen", "Help at home", "Tips for a healthy lifestyle". The final class – "Personal Finance and Responsible Use of Financial Services" – was jointly prepared with the Representation of the German NGO Savings Banks Foundation for International Cooperation (SBFIC).
The know-how testing began in 2018. Heads and teachers of cycles of general legal, psychological and pedagogical disciplines and training of probation staff alternately conducted classes with convicts from the social rehabilitation unit
Correctional Colony № 35 both in the institution and in the Bila Tserkva center. Forms of group work were mainly used. In particular, trainings with the use of discussions, debates, brainstorming, role-playing games, etc.


In the photo: senior teacher of the psychological and pedagogical disciplines cycle Ilia Pakhomov conducts training for Correctional Colony № 35 convicts within the curriculum "Development of social and life skills in convicts"

For prisoners, the benefit of such classes was, first of all, in the opportunity to practice successful behaviors, learn to live in new social conditions: look for work, resolve family disputes, respond calmly to police inquiries, correspond with government agencies, organize their own leisure. In addition, it was a good opportunity to get timely answers to the most painful questions: "What will be my first day at large?", "How to get used to life in freedom and avoid old "friends"?", "How to get rid of bad habits?" etc. Upon completion of the training, four groups of convicts received the appropriate certificates.


In the photo: the chief of the Bila Tserkva Penitentiary Staff Training Center the Ukraine State criminal executive service, internal service colonel Oleg Duka gives certificates for the Correctional Colony № 35 convicts on successful completion of studies

Foreign experts have praised the unique experience of preparing prisoners for release at the training base, designed to improve the penitentiary staff skills. Because such approach to work with this category of persons has not yet been applied in international penitentiary practice. Instead, it has proven to be effective as one of the ways to reduce post-release offenses.
Currently, the Bila Tserkva Center and Correctional Colony № 35 joint work on preparing prisoners for release continues. And in the near future it should move to a new quality level.
Within the project "Support for Government Reforms in Ukraine" (SURGe) framework, in Correctional Colony № 35 there will be implemented a "Course on preparation for the release of convicted men and women" program, which will consist of six thematic modules.
It will focus on the peculiarities of a person's social adaptation after release from prison. In particular, it will include effective interaction with others, ability to manage emotions and feelings, to communicate and build relationships in the family, to interact effectively with the employer and the team, to keep a healthy lifestyle and manage own budget.
In addition, the new program anticipates study of such important aspects as the recovery of lost documents, the return of parental rights, establishing relationship with a partner, the ability to make right decisions, to solve problems effectively and more. Its implementation is scheduled for 2020-2021.
In general, regular cooperation with various international projects and the Bila Tserkva Correctional Colony № 35 once again proves that the Bila Tserkva Center of the Ukraine Penitentiary Service is a modern educational institution, capable not only to implement the developed European standards of work with convicts, but also to generate own ideas, oriented at Ukrainian features of the penitentiary system activities.

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