Kazakhstan: Human Rights in Prisons

Start date: 
Saturday, November 28, 1998
End date: 
Sunday, April 6, 2003

In this prison reform programme ICPS worked alongside Penal Reform International, the Royal Netherlands Tuberculosis Association and the Polish prison administration to help the Kazakh authorities begin the process of change.

The three year project which began in 1998 in Pawlodar region in the north east of Kazakhstan was successfully completed in 2001. This project had two main parts. The first involved the introduction of human rights and strategic management within the regional prison administration and the prison colonies; the second involved a project to manage and decrease the serious problem of tuberculosis among prisoners. At the end of the project senior management had developed their own plans for progressive prison management within a human rights context. External experts continued to visit the region on an annual basis to support local colleagues.

The expansion of the project

At the request of the government of Kazakhstan a further three year project was begun at the end of 2000, with sponsorship from the Dutch funding agency Cordaid. This extended the process of prison reform to the three largest regions in the country, Ust-Kamenogorsk, Akmola and Karaganda, as well as to the national prison headquarters in Astana and the new staff training college in Pawlodar. The programme also provided a programme of training trainers so that the Kazakh prison authorities could disseminate the new model of management throughout the rest of the country.

In March 2001 a team of ICPS/PRI experts, assisted by two local experts from Pawlodar, undertook a two week visit to Ust-Kamenogorsk region, which included visits to prison colonies and a training course for teams of senior managers from the three new regions, headquarters staff, the national staff training college and representatives from the pre-trial system. The course introduced participants to the concept of human rights in prisons and an analysis of the gaps between legislation, regulations and practice in the Kazakh prison system and international standards.

In June 2001 a group from the new programme visited the Polish prison system, to see what had been achieved in a country with a history not dissimilar to their own. In October 2001 the programme continued with visits by the ICPS/PRI team to Karaganda prison colonies and a course in strategic planning. At the end of the course participants began the process of preparing their own strategic plans. A key feature of the expanded project was the direct involvement of senior members of the national prisons headquarters.

The principal problems identified by the Prison Committee were:

·         Overcrowding by 18%.

·         The ratio of staff to prisoners is too low: a single head of unit is responsible for 100 to 150 prisoners.

·         There are too few staff to guarantee the safety of prisoners and staff.

·         The professional training of staff needs to be improved.

·         It is now realised that some regimes for prisoners are too strict.

·         The location of prisons, taking account of the different regimes, does not allow all prisoners to be near their home areas, as specified in the penal code. In particular, there is a need for more colonies for juveniles and women.

·         Financial and material improvements are needed in the colonies.

·         The treatment of TB has reduced the problem from 14,000 cases to 9,000 but the problem has not yet been solved. There are insufficient TB hospitals and not enough space for proper isolation of cases.

·         There is insufficient work for prisoners.

·         There is a need for better preparation for release and training to lead a normal life, to prevent recidivism.

The strategic plans being developed by the participants in the expanded project linked in with the five year plan of reform of the prison system developed by the Prison Committee.

At the specific request of the Chairman of the Prison Committee an assessment of the needs of the new prison staff training college in Pawlodar was undertaken in May 2001 by ICPS in conjunction with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Prison reform as part of wider criminal justice reform

Real prison reform needs to be part of a much wider process of reform. One of the most important developments in Pawlodar was the establishment of prison monitoring committees, made up of individuals from outside the prison system. The setting up of such a committee was a new initiative in the region and there are plans to replicate this in other regions.

The legal adviser to the President of Kazakhstan attended the international conference on prison reform which was organised by ICPS and Penal Reform International in London in 1999. He subsequently became Minister of Justice and took a close interest in this project. In March 2001 the Deputy Minister of Justice accompanied by the Chairman of the Prison Committee visited ICPS. This level of political interest was  important to the whole process of reform.

In May 2001 the Senior Research Fellow of ICPS visited Kazakhstan and in her capacity as a UK parliamentarian was able to have meetings with senior politicians and judicial figures to stress the need for a commitment to penal reform. In view of the high levels of imprisonment in the country there was an emphasis on the need for alternatives to prison. This issue was to become increasingly important as the project continued and was driven forward by one of the partner organisations, Penal Reform International, which opened a Regional Office in Kazakhstan to provide operational support.