Does crime pay in the Czech Republic?
The first major changes in the Czech penal code since 1990 have been recently proposed by the government. How will this change the Czech crime scene and also what will be the impact of the Czech Republic's upcoming membership in the European Union?
This week the government proposed a major change in the penal code that would enforce stricter punishments on crimes such as rape, murder and trafficking with children. For example, sentence for rape could increase from eight to ten years. In the future, a hit man could receive life imprisonment. If passed by Parliament in July, the new law would take effect as of January 2005.
Lawyer Dr. Tomas Sokol elaborated on the proposed stricter criminal punishments:
"It's about the reaction to the public's attitude to higher punishments which are suitable for these criminal acts. In my opinion, the current system of punishment works fine. It is necessary to admit that there are no exact rules for the determination of stricter penalties, and it is always important that the majority of society or their elected representatives believe the punishments are adequate. If they aren't, then it is logical to increase the sentences."
I also asked Dr. Sokol if he felt the newly-proposed law would prove effective:
"Personally, I don't think it would make a significant difference. What is important is that politically this is a perfectly legitimate move, and if it only involves higher maximum sentences - i.e. if the bottom margin remains, then this amendment will leave courts enough maneuvering space to make the right decision on a case-to-case basis. They can take into consideration mitigating circumstances or the possibility of rehabilitation. It is certainly not an infringement on civil rights or a deterioration of the situation in this field."
What is the situation in the Czech crime scene exactly? According to captain Hrabalova of the Czech police presidium, the Czech crime scene is rather taking positive strides: more cases are being solved, for example. While the police believe that the Czech Republic's membership in the European Union may have positive results, captain Hrabalova also pointed out that the possibility of criminals escaping to other countries has never proved an obstacle for culprits and won't be one in the future, either.
Petra Vitousova of the White Circle organization that helps victims of crimes has mixed feelings about how joining the European Union will affect crime here, although she feels that international cooperation bound with contracts will help the situation.
"Unfortunately, the number of victims of crimes with this free movement of people through Europe will increase because more people will travel abroad, but at the same time I think there will be more help and support."
Another significant area to consider involves crimes committed by youth. While captain Hrabalova maintains that the number of juveniles committing crimes has decreased, she also states that the crimes of today's youth are of a more violent and aggressive nature.
Mrs. Vitousova blames the Czech family situation for this negative development:
"The main reason is the bad situation in families in the Czech Republic. Parents are not good models for their children. The way they are brought up should promote good values, tolerance, respect for the elderly, they should learn that they should help others. Unfortunately, in recent years there has been a definite decline in this respect."
The police also acknowledged that the number of robberies has increased. Why? Mrs. Vitousova believes that the increase in the number of people desperate for cash on a daily basis is one reason that this phenomenon is occurring.
"First and foremost they are refugees who have come to the Czech Republic with the promise of a better life and job opportunities and this promise didn't come true. So, these people live from hand to mouth here, and this of course can be a motive and reason that leads them to mug and rob people. For example, there have been cases where they follow people in a supermarket to steal entire bags of food. There are also cases here concerning young people who are drug addicts and need cash on a daily basis for drugs, so there is now stricter security in stores where in the past people have been able to shoplift goods. There are also dangerous situations when they dare to break into people's homes. So, that's one of the main reasons why the culprits have become more aggressive: because they are so decisive to get what they want from the victim, whether it be money or objects that they can then sell."