On 18 May, the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) presented its monitoring report on the application of conditional release in Kosovo.
Conditional release refers to the supervised release of prisoners before the completion of their full sentence. It is designed to provide individuals with an opportunity to reintegrate gradually into the society under specific conditions. Conditional release is one of the most effective and constructive means of preventing reoffending by providing individuals with planned, assisted and supervised integration into their communities.
EULEX’s report “Application of Conditional release in Kosovo: Findings and Recommendation”, which covers the period from March 2022 to September 2022, is based on the monitoring of six selected correctional facilities with a high number of annual conditional release applications, and it includes findings and specific recommendations to the Kosovo authorities on the application of conditional release.
Despite the recent update of the Kosovo legislation and the fact that, in general, Kosovo’s judiciary recognizes the benefits of conditional release, some aspects regarding conditional release as recommended in international human rights instruments are still missing. Therefore, this measure needs to be promoted and made accessible to all eligible candidates in practice, particularly in the case of juveniles and women.
In his opening remarks, the Head of Mission of EULEX Kosovo, Lars-Gunnar Wigemark, said that releasing eligible individuals who have demonstrated their readiness for reintegration, is an effective way to manage prison populations and direct resources towards those who pose a higher risk to public safety.
“This also allows everyone to strike a balance between punishment and rehabilitation, ensuring that we prioritize public safety while promoting the potential for change,” Wigemark said adding that: “By embracing and supporting the principles of conditional release, we hope to be able to contribute to a justice system in Kosovo that can also rehabilitate, ultimately leading to a safer community for everyone.”
Commenting on the importance of this legal instrument, the Kosovo Minister of Justice, Albulena Haxhiu, said: “Criminal justice is the backbone of the legal system. Imprisonment should not be the only public safety measure, especially when it comes to crimes that do not pose a high social risk, when conditional release should be implemented.” She also emphasized that “conditional relesae is not only a legal process, but also a humane process.”
“If a convicted person has shown good behavior, and has accepted his responsibility, then there should be the possibility of conditional release," Haxhiu explained highlighting the need to further enhance the mechanism of conditional release: "We are working on improving conditional release, on meeting the standards. One of the most frequent complaints of prisoners has been related the decisions of the Conditional Release Panel, and it is considered that they are standard decisions and that most requests are rejected without reason."
Presenting the report’s findings and recommendations, the Chief of EULEX’s Correctional unit, Ritva Vahakoski, said: “International human rights instruments clearly recognize the importance of conditional release as an effective and constructive means of preventing reoffending and promoting resettlement. Kosovo legislation endorses this conviction in principle, but this does not translate into a correct and proper use of this tool in practice, with serious deficiencies in its application, especially when it comes to juveniles and women.”
In particular, the report presents the following recommendations to support Kosovo institutions in safeguarding the human rights of prisoners and promote their reintegration into society:
Commenting on the report, Ismail Dibrani, Acting Director General of Kosovo Correctional Service, thanked EULEX’s monitoring team for being a strategic partner of the Kosovo Correctional Service and for their very professional work in reviewing these cases, stating that: "This monitoring report will serve as a guide for all the identified weaknesses."
Dibrani mentioned a successful example of rehabilitation of a minor in contact with the law and pointed out the relevance and effectiveness of conditional release for juveniles stressing: “I think the Conditional Release Panel should pay special attention to these cases.”
Albert Zogaj, Chair of Kosovo Judicial Council, highlighted that such reports, which include practical recommendations to improve certain issues, are of great importance stating that: “The EULEX mission has the most professional tradition of preparing monitoring reports, of high objectivity, of providing necessary information and of reliability. Therefore, in this context, this report also coincides with an important moment for the process of the Conditional Release Panel itself and the procedure of the Conditional Release Panel due to the legal changes that took place in 2022. We have a new Conditional Release Panel and special professional criteria have also been established.”
Zogaj also pointed out the need for cooperation among the relevant institutions when applying the measure of conditional release. “Conditional release connects institutions to each other, therefore cooperation in this regard is highly necessary,” he said, adding that the monitoring activity of other institutions “makes this report even more complete by presenting the situation from all angles.”
Arsim Tahiri, Director General of Kosovo Probation Service, presented the role of its agency in dealing with persons conditionally released, explaining that the Kosovo Probation Service, through the supervision and provision of professional services, enables their safe reintegration in the community.
“The Probation Service is focusing all its work on increasing the level of this institutional mechanism in the system of punishments, alternative punishments, and the supervision of persons on conditional release from prison. At the same time, we focus on raising awareness of the general public on the possibility of alternative punishments,” said Tahiri, adding that: “Since 2006, the Probation Service has started the supervision of persons on conditional release, and until now it has supervised 2,689 persons on conditional release from prison.”
This report is the third in a series of special reports after the one titled “Assessment of the Handling of Rape Cases by the Justice System in Kosovo” and the report on the impact of COVID-19 on the rule of law in Kosovo.
The full report is available at: The Application of Conditional Release in Kosovo: Findings and Recommendations - News - EULEX - European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (eulex-kosovo.eu)