26 February 2020

In Olaine “laboratory of good changes” is being created


Since 2014 the mission of Latvian Prison Administration has been to execute the punishment of imprisonment by helping offenders to become socialized citizens. Although it cannot be doubted that the socially most effective indicator of prison activity is the amount of repeated crimes of the offenders who have served their sentence, the mission is brave and ambitious. Offenders are isolated from the public, but prison staff must teach them to live in society. They are brought together with other offenders, but prison staff must help them to interact positively.

According to the data of Latvian Prison Administration, more than half of the convicts serve time repeatedly. It depends on the interpretation of assessor if that is a lot or not - half of the results of cases have a positive result, the rest were followed by failure.  It leads to conclude – even if system that until now hasn’t concentrated on decreasing relapse can reach effectiveness of fifty percent, a system that has relapse issue in the centre of attention can be more effective.

It’s not possible to become more effective just by formulating the mission. Activities must be done that divide the approach oriented to reducing relapse from the previous approach. The staff must be ensured with competitive pay that helps to attract and accordingly evaluate the most capable and best educated employees. Recruitment must be oriented to attracting specialists with motivation, who are interested in resocialization, especially concentrating on the human qualities of candidates, the personnel must be provided with according specialized education. Tested and effective methods should be used in work with convicts and appropriate prisons should be arranged for executing these methods.  And, nevertheless – legislation must be recast so that the system for reducing relapse could work.

Of course the effectiveness of system can only be judged in situations where offenders on their way to the life of a socialized citizen receive a full support package not just a few elements of it. Unfortunately not all necessary resources and instruments can be applicable in the circumstances of isolation. Although for the offenders readiness for living in society while in prison’s walls can be judged only hypothetically, the potential of prisons is high enough to give its customer a good fare-well before the biggest challenge – freedom. With this as a leading motive one of the most sensitive target groups has been selected – addicted people in imprisonment.

Five “H”

The name of the laboratory of changes is named after the project devoted to the resocialization of addicted convicts “Making of a new department in Olaine prison, including construction and personnel training”, that is co-financed by the Government of Norway. A personnel with no experience in prison systems is welcomed mostly and also a new approach for recruitment is being looked for. With the criteria stated in the law – age, state of health, physical fitness, and impunity isn’t enough to make conclusions about the candidate’s willingness and ability to help other people. In cooperation with Norwegian Correctional Services personnel academy there has begun development of a programme appropriate to the mission that will be learned by all department employees. By consulting with experienced foreign specialists there have been developed resocialization programs and construction of the new department. Parallel to that appropriate normative regulations are also being developed.

The department or resocialization centre for the addicted, in which from spring 70 employees in two shifts will work with 200 clients, will be made of building blocks in the form of letter “H”. That’s why it is symbolic that all of the preparing for the new mission is characterized by five “H”: “hermetic”, “hygiene”, “harmony”, “humanism”, and “holism”.


When beginning the resocialization of addicted people, all the accessible ways to addicting substances must be closed. The clients of department won’t be involved in substitution treatment – they won’t receive the preparation of synthetic opioid methadone. Their movement outside the department will be limited and controlled. Building windows can’t be opened, fresh air will be provided with ventilation system. Clients will often be subject to express tests, detectors will be used for the checking of packages and visitors. The task of recruitment will be to choose honourable employees that have involved in the mission because of the will to actualize professional ideals and who respect the goal of profession to help another person to stop on the way down in his life and help to get back up.


Addiction to drugs and alcohol is a self-destructive activity, the addiction to substances destroys human physical body and his social connections. A careless attitude to hygiene gives the users of addictive substances heavy illnesses – HIV/AIDS, B and C hepatitis, tuberculosis. That’s why it is important to do the resocialization of users of addictive substances in an environment that promotes healthy lifestyle. It won’t be allowed to smoke in department rooms, a gym and a training room will be built for physical activities. Clients will be encouraged to take care of personal hygiene as well as the hygiene in shared rooms. The environment will be safe and favourable because of the therapeutic community principle in clients’ everyday life, the amount of personnel, and the arrangement in rooms.  


Harmony is an important characteristic of the new approach. The system of prisons is often identified with presence of different or even opposite and conflicting elements. Convicts as fiends and wreckers parted from society, and administration that repays them with a punishment in the name of all society. Convicts that represent the highest class of offender subculture, and the “untouchables” that can’t sit with them at one table.  Supervisors and teachers that work in one institution but follow different goals and values.  

Addiction to substances very much enhances the risk of conflict – people who are addicted become easily offended and cannot keep constructive relationships with others.

The new centre will consist of eight small subdivisions that will allow to keep separate psychological microclimate in each of them. Thanks to the contact person system there will be no inner personnel competitiveness because universal employees will do both support and control functions, and will fulfil a united mission. Not like the usual model, to each convict will be assigned a support person from staff and in the execution of penalty it will allow a wider application of individual approach to client’s resocialization.

Harmony will be also followed in the planning and design of the rooms by making space for work and leisure. But the most important trait of harmony is a systematic approach to the issue of addiction in prisons that is understandable for all parties.  Approach that ensures a qualitative selection of clients and preparing them for therapy, an appropriate therapy in department, keeping the therapy results in prisons, and preparing for keeping the therapy results after release from prison.


Although humanism is an overall category of ethics and philosophy, the statements of humane imprisonment are in detail provided in guidelines of “European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment”. Usually practicians attribute these statements on the overpopulation problem in prisons in different European countries. That’s why it is often unseen that committee in its activity specially accentuates the need to make in prisons constructive, appropriate relationships between personnel and convicts, as well as to ensure for convicts a well-considered and meaningful program of activities.

Of course, in circumstances where the amount of employees is insufficient, it lacks motivation, knowledge, and rooms for lessons, the microclimate of prison is characterized by tension. In these circumstances the convicts spend most of their day in cells, wasting the time that could be devoted for resocialization. In this aspect the centre also will comply with all criteria of humane approach. Convicts will come to the centre with a goal to change positively, so all day they will be involved in individual and group lessons, including biblio-therapy, film-therapy and art therapy. But the model of therapeutic community of centre, whose goal is to create and maintain an environment that is healthy and promoting development, is an appropriate platform for a good common activity of personnel and clients. This is a model in which the safety of all involve persons will be ensured with a dynamic activity in resocialization field, not with static attention.


Holism is mostly used to describe a holistic approach to the whole of several elements and that will brightly show in the activity of the new centre. Participation in any of the resocialization programs won’t be just an episode in the clients’ daily schedule. Life itself in the centre will create a united resocialization activity program, its components will be individual and group lessons, daily regime of clients, lessons in gym, even shared meal time, and cleaning rooms. Centre will be an illustration of how imprisonment penalty is not a revenge, but a way of state teaching the offender skills to live independently without committing crimes.

The approach of holism will be also expressed the division of personnel functions – officials won’t be traditionally divided in safety, supervision or rehabilitation department segments. In each therapeutic community will be specialists in whose centre of attention will be client with his needs and crime risks that endanger the society and need to be lessened.  

Personnel and clients: the start signal has been shot

Now specialists of different fields and other interested persons are invited to work in centre, in autumn will begin their training, and selection of clients from Latvian prisons. Centre that will become the largest rehabilitation institution for addicted persons in the state from an idea will soon become a reality – with its challenges and lucky stories. Probably it will become the good practice example for the whole prison system. Possibly the specialists that recently hadn’t planned a career in prison will soon become participants of the reform team. This will be a team that is gathered to break old stereotypes and would help all of society to be safer through helping offenders. 

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