UNODC in Kazakhstan: Webinars Promote Effective Media Communication of Prison Administrations during COVID-19

Places of deprivation of liberty constitute high-risk environments for the spread of COVID-19. Prison administrations around the world have been taking measures to ensure the health and well-being of prisoners, prison personnel and visitors and prevent an outbreak of the virus in their penitentiary systems.

Kazakhstan’s Prison Service is no exception with restrictions on prison visits and other measures introduced following the detection of the first COVID-19 cases in the country in March.

To ensure tailored awareness-raising for prisoners and transparent communication channels towards the general public during the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) recently partnered with the Prison Committee of the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Kazakhstan to organize a three-week online training (webinar). Held on 13-29 May 2020, the webinars gathered 29 prison officers - media focal points from prison departments of all 17 regions of Kazakhstan to enhance their communication skills and promote openness and transparency in the work of the prison system.

Professional trainers with extensive experience in the sphere of media and public relations conducted nine online sessions of the webinar on "Effective communications: the basics of work with the media". The webinar covered issues of crisis communications, development of high-quality information materials for the media and the role of social media. The webinar also focused on the Nelson Mandela Rules (United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners) and their importance as a reference while preparing press releases, writing stories and sharing news with the media correctly.

"We have to understand the importance of working with the media, given its role as a channel for communications between the prison system and the general public," said Saule Mektepbayeva, Project Coordinator at the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Office (UNOCT), a partner of the initiative. "In addition to traditional media, we have to explore opportunities to cover prison issues more actively in social media", Ms. Mektepbayeva added.

Webinar participants stressed the usefulness of the training for their work with the public and the media. "The online training has given me and my colleagues at regional prison departments a solid grounding in communications work and media relations. This will help us to carry out our duties and improve prison management in Kazakhstan", noted Akerke Zhaubasarova, the press secretary of the Prison Committee of Kazakhstan.

"I gained new knowledge and useful skills to apply in my daily routine. There is much room for improvement, and now we know how to do it," said Roman Telenkov, a press officer at the Mangistau regional prison department.

The webinar was organized within the framework of the joint global UN (UNODC-UNCCT-UNCTED) initiative “Supporting the Management of Violent Extremist Prisoners and the Prevention of Radicalization to Violence in Prisons” co-funded by EU, the Government of the Netherlands and UNOCT.