Kyiv, Ukraine, 6 October 2023 As a follow-up to the Penitentiary Forum in Ukraine in June 2023, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in partnership with the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration of the Republic of Croatia, organized a study visit of Ukrainian officials from the Ministry of Justice and the State Penitentiary Service to Croatia from 23 to 29 September 2023.
Study visit to Croatia
In a commendable effort to enhance their prison system despite the unprecedented challenges posed by the war, officials from Ukraine arrived in Croatia to exchange experiences and gain valuable insights on effective prison management, with the aim of aligning legislation and practices with European and international minimum standards.
The delegation from Ukraine, led by the Deputy Minister of Justice, Ms. Olena Vysotska, welcomed the collaboration with international partners to strengthen Ukraine’s justice system and to ensure respect for human rights.
During their stay, Ukrainian officials had the opportunity to engage in fruitful discussions and exchange best practices with their counterparts from the Croatian prison administration. The consultations focused on various aspects of prison management, including professional training of prison and probation officers, prison infrastructure, prison-based rehabilitation programmes and post-release support, including the potential added value associated with new technologies.
Mr. Juro Martinović, State Secretary of the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration of the Republic of Croatia, underlined the importance of cooperation and noted that “A safe, secure and humane prison environment requires not only physical security, but also professionalism, communication, fairness and consistency in the protection of human rights”.
One of the key highlights of the visit was a series of informative presentations delivered by Croatian prison experts. These meetings delved into topics such as the effective use of alternative sentencing methods, the importance of mental health support for prisoners, and strategies for their successful reintegration into society upon release.
The Ukrainian delegation also met with representatives of the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration, the Training Center for Prison and Probation Staff, the Diagnostic Center and the Probation Service, and visited prisons in Zagreb, Lepoglava, Turopolj and Varaždin. These visits provided first-hand observations of Croatia’s approach to prison management and its alignment with European and international standards. The delegation noted the importance of ensuring adequate financial and human resources as well as public support to establish a rehabilitative regime in both custodial and non-custodial settings.
Ukraine’s prisons have been badly affected by the war, with extensive damage and severe disruptions to prison management and conditions. Throughout their visit, the Ukrainian officials and their Croatian counterparts openly discussed the unique challenges faced by the State Penitentiary Service during times of war. They acknowledged the need for contingency planning as well as tailored approaches to address the specific needs of prisoners affected by armed conflict. Sharing experiences and lessons learned, both countries recognized the importance of restorative justice and rehabilitation as effective tools for reconciliation and reintegration.
Mr. Zvonimir Penic, Acting Director General for the Prison and Probation System, welcomed the partnership with the Prison and Probation Services of Ukraine and suggested “to strengthen cooperation between the Training Centre of Croatia and the Academy of the State Penitentiary Service of Ukraine in order to exchange knowledge and experience as well as to enhance the capacity of prison and probation officers”.
As the visit drew to a close, Ms. Olena Vysotska, Deputy Minister of Justice of Ukraine, expressed her gratitude to the Croatian Government and officials for their warm hospitality and invaluable knowledge-sharing. She highlighted the commitment of Ukraine to implementing the lessons learned from Croatia, with the ultimate goal of creating a prison system that adheres to international standards and ensures the rights and dignity of every individual under its custody and care.
The visit between Ukraine and Croatia serves as a remarkable example of international collaboration and the continuous pursuit of excellence in prison management. Mr. Oleksandr Banchuk, Deputy Minister of Justice of Ukraine, also emphasized that “the importance of European Union (EU) membership in Ukraine's endeavor to improve its prison management practices cannot be overstated. The prospect of EU membership serves as a catalyst for significant reforms across various sectors and paves the way for increased cooperation and exchange of promising practices with EU Member States.
UNODC expresses sincere gratitude to the Government of France for supporting this initiative, the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration of the Republic of Croatia for hosting the study visit and the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine for constructive cooperation.