The Probation Service in the Republic of Armenia. The legislative basis of its operation and the main challenges
On May 17, 2016, the Republic of Armenia adopted the Law on Probation, which established the basis for probation in the Republic of Armenia, and established a probation service independent of the penitentiary service. The introduction of this institution was based on the need to move from a punitive policy in the field of criminal justice to a restorative justice system. However, since the adoption of the law and the launch of the service, the assessment of probation activities as such has not been carried out, and the legislative basis of the sector and the relations that still require regulation have not been studied. A practical evaluation of the activities of the service has also not been done, which would allow the identification of the main risks and challenges in the first years of operation.
In the context of the above, the RA penitentiary and probation 2019-2023 strategy and the 2019-2023 action plan for its implementation, in which the problems of the sphere and the directions of reforms are presented, are encouraging. The strategy and action plan have already been approved by the RA Government, which allows us to expect the implementation of the goals and actions which have been set.
Probation is one of the main institutions of the criminal justice system, which offers courts a variety of alternatives to imprisonment and relies on specialized and skilled personnel. At the same time, it supports those who have returned from prison to society and promotes their re-socialization.
The Probation Service operating in the Republic of Armenia was established for this purpose and in principle adopted similar principles. According to the concept, the goals of the RA Probation Service were to reduce crimes by monitoring, directing, assisting and supporting those who have committed crimes, promoting their effective re-socialization, public safety, and the administration of justice.
The Probation Service was set up to reduce the need for courts to impose unnecessary sentences, to decrease the number of cases of detention of defendants as a measure of restraint, and to ease the overcrowding of penitentiaries. With the exception of the last aim, these goals are in line with the accepted criteria, specific purpose and role of probation, However, subsequent regulations show that there are still gaps in the legislation that could disrupt the effective operation of the service.
Despite the fact that the law allows for the application of probation at all stages of criminal justice, also providing for a wide range of functions, they have not been implemented yet due to the lack of institutional and complex legislative regulations. For example, alternative pre-trial precautionary measures are not applied due to the lack of provisions in the current criminal procedure legislation. The same concern applies to the application of security measures provided to probation by law, as the current Criminal Code does not have such provisions.
The study also raises some concerns about suspended sentences and the role of the Probation Service in the process of parole, in particular the preparation and submission of reports that play a significant role in this process, which is mandated by law to all employees without particular criteria and requirements.
The issue of electronic surveillance and mediation, which is provided for by law but has not yet been implemented, is still a matter of great concern. On the one hand, there are shortcomings related to its application, on the other hand, again, there are gaps in criminal procedure legislation.
Legislative regulations on mediation are especially concerning because, on the one hand, the current criminal legislation does not provide for mediation, on the other hand, the concept of mediation envisaged in the draft amendments to the Criminal Code is not in line with the relevant provisions of the probation law.
Summarizing the above, we can state that after the introduction of probation in the Republic of Armenia, no institutional and harmonious legislative changes were made, which would have ensured the implementation of all the functions provided for by law.
- To set an obligation for the Probation Service to provide substantive reports to the public about their service.
- To take effective and immediate steps to ensure the practical applicability of alternative precautionary and security measures provided by implementing the relevant amendments to the Criminal and Criminal Procedure Codes.
- To ensure the use of electronic monitoring by making comprehensive and agreed legislative changes to the penitentiary sector.
- To align the regulations governing mediation, already adopted by law, with the amendments to the draft Criminal Code.
- To clarify in law the requirements applicable to mediators.
- To make re-socialization measures at the pre-trial stage mandatory for the probation beneficiary.
- To clarify in the probation law the role and powers of individual employees and departments within the service as regards re-socialization.
- To create a separate section of staff with relevant capabilities and skills for compiling reports for parole procedures.
- To clarify by law the role of the Probation Service in the post-punishment stage, specifying the selection of measures, procedures for their application, criteria and methods in that stage.
- For the more effective implementation of a number of powers assigned to the Probation Service by law, create a separate foundation within the Service which, through effective cooperation and coordination, will provide persons who have committed crimes the opportunity for work and employment and education and to take part in other programs.
- To legislate the issue of financing the Probation Service, to give the service the opportunity to directly participate in the drafting and finalization of the budget in the Ministry of Justice-National Assembly and Government-National Assembly relations.
- To clarify by law the limits and procedure of prosecutorial control over the Probation Service.
 RA Government, decision No. 1717-L dated November 28, 2019 approving the RA penitentiary and probation 2019-2023 strategy, the 2019-2023 action plan for its implementation, the financial evaluation of the action plan and the formation and the procedure for organising the activities of the council which coordinates the implementation of the action plan: http://www.irtek.am/views/act.aspx?aid=152278
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