Czech Probation and Mediation Service launches campaign to assist victims of crime
Every year, tens of thousands of Czechs become victims of a crime. In most cases, they deal with the trauma themselves and seek very little assistance - mostly because it is not offered to them despite the fact that they have the right to compensation and psychological care under Czech legislation. A new campaign launched last month now aims to bring the information closer to crime victims. In today's Talking Point, we speak with Pavel Stern, director of the Czech Probation and Mediation Service, which launched the campaign:
"The Probation and Mediation Service was established under the Probation and Mediation Act in 2001 because, as many other post-Communist countries after 1989, we started to reform the criminal justice system and one of the main problems we recognised in the 1990s was the highly populated prisons. There was a very punitive criminal justice system. We founded the first institute of alternatives in 1994, it was the Institute of Diversion and the Conditional Secession of Prosecution and during the whole 1990s, we introduced other alternative methods such as community service or suspended sentences with probation supervision. But at the end of the 1990s we realised that we needed a new service that would help put what the new institutes offered into practice."
What are your main activities today?
"The Probation and Mediation Act in 2001 established mediation and probation under one roof. This means that we are active during the entire criminal procedure - during the pre-trial stage we provide mediation services and restorative activities and in the post-trial stage, we offer probation supervision, community service, and parole supervision. Our service declares that we will work equally with offenders and their victims."
You've recently launched a campaign to inform victims of crime about what they can do to help themselves...
"Yes, the campaign is our priority this year. The idea is to encourage and support victims by providing them with information. We feel that all these rights are stated in Czech legislation but applied very rarely."
Part of the campaign is also to provide victims with leaflets or brochures...
"The information in the leaflets will be available on our website soon but the leaflets themselves can already be found at any probation and mediation centre in the Czech Republic, at any state prosecution, courts or police station. It includes the basic information for victims about the criminal procedure. What it means to be a victim, what a victim's rights are, who they can contact, what the justice ministry does to help, etc."
"From our experience, we have learned that during a criminal investigation process, the main focus is on the offender. The evidence is collected and the offender is punished. The victim is given little attention. We need to give more attention to how the victims feel, how much damage was done to them because restorative justice says that if we want to solve criminal conflict in harmony, we have to deal with the offender, the victim, and the community equally.
"According to statistics, property crime is the most frequent offence. Unfortunately, with young offenders, we have recorded less property crime but more violent crimes. This is a problem and we have to find an effective solution."
Where else has legislation failed?
"I can't say it's failed. We have been building it for fifteen years and need time to understand the process and incorporate it in our legislation. But our system is developing. One example, though, is that the new act strictly states that the personal data of young offenders cannot be made public. This is okay but on the other hand I cannot understand why the victim's personal data is made public. Also, if an offender is released from prison in Canada, or in the UK, the victim is automatically informed about it. Here, only if the victim asks the judge, then he will receive the information but I think it should be done automatically."
How many victims ask you for help yearly?
"Last year we had 29,000 cases and we met with some 7-10 thousand of them, but that's just an estimate. But I have to say that we have a mission statement on what we would like to do but the reality is different because the Probation and Mediation Service is a very small service. We have a professional staff of only 224 and we yearly have 29,000 cases. So, we are overloaded with cases. In the UK, for example, they have a staff of 15,000 and every probation officer has an average of 100 cases yearly."