Pilot programme to discourage violent criminals from re-offending proves successful in Czech prisons

A rehab programme for prisoners, originally developed by a New Zealand clinical psychologist to rehabilitate sex offenders, has just reached the end of its three-year pilot phase in Czechia. It has proven to be a success – and will now be introduced in prisons across the country.

The Good Lives Model, a rehabilitation programme which aims to reduce recidivism through therapy, was first developed in 2002 by Tony Ward, a clinical psychologist from New Zealand. Since then, the programme has proven to be successful in Australia, Canada, and Germany – and three years ago, Czechia became the second European country to try it out, after a need to address the high level of recidivism in Czech prisons was identified, particularly amongst perpetrators of violent crimes.

Photo: Czech Prison Service

Lukáš Salivar, head of the non-profit organization Volonté, which introduced and facilitated the programme in Czech prisons, explains how it aims to assist and motivate prisoners to start afresh:

“The idea is to bring about a change, so that they will learn to solve the problems that life throws at them in a different way, without using violence. Because up until now, it was completely normal for them to solve everything by using violence.”

The programme is based on Ward’s idea that rehabilitation programmes need to do more than just trying to stop criminal behaviour – the traditional “risk management” approach to rehabilitation – but rather to offer repeat offenders a compelling alternative to a life in and out of the prison system. As such, the programme helps inmates to develop meaningful life plans in accordance with their values, and to implement them in a pro-social way that doesn’t hurt others.

Photo illustrative: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio

Concretely, the programme consists of about 240 hours of group therapy, where prisoners learn to talk about their problems, how to deal more constructively with their own emotions, and how to understand other people's needs. Jaroslav, who was sentenced to prison in 2011 for attempted murder, describes the process:

“There were about ten of us in the group, and the sessions involved us sitting and talking together. For me, the most important thing was having the space to speak.”

Miroslava Maťátková from Volonté, who managed the project, describes some of the inmates’ reactions:

“There were a lot of emotions. Tears, denial, and then acceptance. Many of them realised, ‘this is not for me and I don't want to live like this anymore’.”

Photo: Volonté

The pilot programme lasted for three years, and was trialled by over 400 inmates from six Czech prisons, and will now continue to be rolled out across all prisons in Czechia. Lukáš Salivar, head of Volonté, says that this was always the primary objective.

“The idea from the beginning was that the programme would become standard practice in the Czech prison service, and would be introduced to all Czech prisons. This goal will now be achieved.”

Studies from abroad where the programme has been running for a longer time show that it reduces the number of repeat offences by around half. And Jaroslav hopes to count himself among those who can say the programme helped him not to re-offend.

“There is a saying in prison - never say never. But I am convinced that for me personally, once was enough.”