First Czech institution for child killers

According to statistics, criminality among Czech youth has been decreasing: in general, children under the age of fifteen committed fewer serious crimes - such as murder - in the year 2005. On the other hand the number of other offences - for example cases of pick pocketing by children rose by some two hundred cases.

Stealing money or valuables is often the only way for children from poorer homes to obtain money; but for some it doesn't stop at that. Unfortunately some of them go as far as murder. Whether their reasons for killing are purely materialistic or whether it is a deviation, these "child killers" are not punishable, at least under the Criminal Code, they can not be punished as adults. Instead, they are sent to special institutions.

Some two years back serious delinquents in various institutes mixed with children who hadn't committed major crimes, and critics argued that their regime was too loose to properly punish or change their behavior. Many in the public as well as professionals called for a change.

The change came in the summer of 2005 when the first institution for so-called "child killers" opened its doors in the Czech Republic. Not surprisingly, there were no volunteers and when the Ministry of Education picked the Institution in Boletice near Decin, which had been taking care of young offenders for many years, its director Jaroslav Zejdl didn't object.

"Reactions of people living nearby were varied, society itself is very varied. Some individuals were afraid that their lives would be in danger but there also were those who realized that these kind of kids have to be isolated and in this way it would also protect society."

Jaroslav Zejdl,  photo: CTK

Offenders live on the top floor of the building isolated from youngsters downstairs who in comparison with inhabitants of the "top floor" didn't commit serious crimes. Those two groups don't meet.

"It's not possible to treat them as adults because they are not fifteen yet. Even if they killed somebody at that age, they wouldn't be punished as adults. They would be sent to an institution with protective care and after they leave at the age of eighteen or sometimes in cases when the court decides that they have pull themselves up even earlier, they start from the scratch as if they had never committed any crime. Their criminal record is clear. If you committed a crime in the Czech Republic you wouldn't be punished either. The highest punishment quote unquote is protective care."

Director Jaroslav Zejdl. Most of his clients come from incomplete families that failed to teach their children the right morals. Jaroslav Zejdl is positive that these children can change for better. Unfortunately it is impossible to track them down once they leave their care.

"We are very restricted because of legislation on data protection. We are not allowed to ask police or the municipal authorities about the whereabouts of our clients. And that is the end of our influence and of our efforts. We are not able to find out whether they got married, whether they have established families, whether they lead a normal life and a good life. It is a shame, a big shame. We are left to guess. About fifty percent of them integrate with society and about thirty percent end up in prisons."

But some of them do come back to report on their successes.

We walk up the stairs, through locked doors into a corridor where I met by Radek a strong-looking correction officer. The atmosphere is pretty relaxed, it is Friday afternoon and boys are playing guitar. Rooms, each for two are bare of people and also of furniture. There are only two beds in each. Everything else is stored in wardrobes in corridors.

"As you see, these are unbreakable windows."

says Radek as we walk into a room.

"There is a day and night light. The night light allows us to see but clients can sleep. We use those peepholes in doors. We check on them every fifteen minutes since we have to know what they are up to at all times."

"These are showers. They are not usual but built into walls. Boys take showers one at time because unwanted physical contact is very likely."

Music therapy in Boletice,  photo: CTK
Says Radek and we move on to the classroom. As we walk down the corridor boys look at us with respect. Most of them regret what they have done and are planning to lead a normal life. Their daily regime which includes sessions with psychologists, therapists should help them. Radek explains how it works in the modern equipped classroom...

"Lessons are taught by a teacher that comes in from the institute downstairs. The teacher is always accompanied by a correction officer who makes sure that children obey."

Says Radek and continues ...

"Those children who lack behind get extra attention. A correction officer explains what is needed. For example reading, writing, maths ... it enables the child to catch up later on. "

I sit down in the classroom to talk to fifteen-year-old Honza, one of the institution's inhabitants. Radek pays attention to Honza's words more than his behavior. As I have been told, he likes lying. I do wonder how this rather shy looking boy could be dangerous to society and himself.

"I used to run away from home because I didn't like my stepfather. I got involved with the wrong kind of people and after I got used to hanging out with them I started to do drugs. At first it was toluene and in the end heroine. I got hepatitis C and I am still getting over it. I am very sorry about it and if I had known I wouldn't have done it."

There is always someone else to blame but Radek at least believes that this boy will make it. Apparently he is a hard working, skilled and good kid. A kid who stole plenty of cars and attacked several people. Honza tries to make it sound as if it was not his fault....

"Well I am not sure how to put it ... I didn't attack anyone in a way that I would have killed him but I did hurt two people quite seriously and they had to go to hospital. The reason was racism. I was just defending myself. On the one hand, I was angry with myself and I was fighting with withdrawal symptoms. One man was talking about Gypsies in a bad way so I jumped on him and I sent him to a hospital. But I am very sorry about it."

The corection officer Radek concludes ...

"First of all you have to be very patient, self-controlled and have empathy to work here with these kids. Anyone who works here has to have feelings for these kids although it might sound like a paradox."