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Azerbaijan is a sole CE member without a probation service

    BAKU/06.05.10/TURAN: The conference, "Support of Reforms in Azerbaijan’s Penitentiary System”, was held today in the Park Inn Hotel. The project was initiated in September 2008 by the Council of Europe and by Azerbaijan’s Penitentiary Service, with financial support from the government of Norway.

    This is the second project undertaken by the CE in Azerbaijan concerning penitentiary system reform (the first was in 2006). Veronica Cotec, special representative of the CE’s Secretary General, said she welcomed the construction of new penitential departments, in particular, pre-trial prisons in the village of Kurdakhani.

    "However, the construction of new departments is only part of reform. We do not know what happens in the jails. Therefore, the current project focused on such issues,” she said.

    In particular, the professionalism of Education Center employees of the penitentiary service was realized for upholding human rights in places of detention.

    Another project concerns the development of medical services for prisoners. Special attention was paid to the problem of the imprisonment of mentally ill and drug-addicted people. Recommendations focused on the use of alternative sanctions. Cotec welcomed Azerbaijan Supreme Court instructions for arrests to be made only in special cases. Alternatives to incarceration can include home arrest, among other options. Azerbaijan is the only country in the CE that lacks a probation service to oversee the execution of non-imprisonment punishment alternatives.

    "If Azerbaijan wants to create such a service, CE is ready to help it,” Cotec said.

    According to Yon Ramberg, Norway’s ambassador to Azerbaijan, measures for reforming Azerbaijan’s penitentiary system have been constructive.

    Deputy Chairman of the Penitentiary Service Alikhan Huseynov focused on the application of punishments.

    Representative of the CE’s Directorate for Legal Issues, Tanya Rakushich-Khadjich, said the accused should not be deprived of human rights. "The state must protect their rights,” she said.

    Head of the organization–control department of the penitentiary service, Musa Gumbatov, commented on a system of alternative sanctions and probation service.

    "Imprisonment does not always rehabilitate people, therefore it is necessary to apply alternative measures. Also, such measures address economic issues – such as the lowering of expenses involved in housing prisoners.

    "Public work is widely used in Europe, where prisoners fulfill socially useful work for two-to-four hours per day. Alternative sanctions can be adopted during pre-trial conflict settlement, such as reconciliation, compensation, etc. Probation services can oversee the execution of alternatives,” Gumbatov said. 

    Creation of a probation service would require legislation and public support. "Most people view alternative punishment as liberation from punishment,” he said.

    As a result of the application of a new Criminal Code, amnesty and pardon, the number of accused has increased considerably. Currently, the number of prisoners does not exceed 12,000.

    Expenses for keeping prisoners are less in Azerbaijan than in Europe, but exceed the minimum standard of $8 a day.
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