Up to three quarters of Czech prisoners return to jail

The reoffending rate in the Czech Republic continues to be one of the highest in the European Union, with up to 70 percent of former convicts returning to jail, sooner or later. According to experts, the most effective solution to the problem is to systematically support released prisoners in their integration into society.

Finding a job, a place to live and paying off debts – these are just some of the problems convicts face upon their release from jail. Recent data released by the Czech Prison Service show that most of them fail and sooner or later end up behind bars again.

Fifty-five year-old Pavel has been incarcerated several times. During his last prison stay, he reached out for help to the NGO Rubikon Centrum, which helps former prisoners to reintegrate:

“Rubikon helped me a lot with not going back to prison. I struggled mainly with the authorities - if you come back, they treat you like a criminal and that’s not really pleasant.”

The organisation provides its clients with escorts when dealing with the authorities, for instance when applying for benefits. Silvie Silná is Pavel's professional counsellor. She first contacted him when he was still in prison:

“The social assistance system is extremely complex. The services are not connected at all, so you have to keep proving the same things over and over every month.

Photo: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio

“In many cases, the office doesn’t provide any kind of assistance and our clients are treated with reluctance and contempt. So the escorts also serve as a psychological support.”

Silvie advised Pavel not to return to the town where he had committed his crimes after his release. She helped him to find a hostel in Prague and now – three years after his release - Pavel is renting a flat and has a part-time job looking after a community garden.

However, he is just one of a quarter of convicts in the Czech Republic who successfully complete the transition to normal life. According to Prison Service data, around 70 percent of prisoners return behind bars.

According to Simon Michailidis, deputy director-general of the Czech Prison Service, it is absolutely essential to work with prisoners after their release in order to reduce the reoffending rate.

“The Prison Service can do all it can within its power, but if it is not followed up with at least the same quality of post-release care, then sooner or later offenders will return to prison.

“In the first weeks and months after release, guidance is very important, predominantly as regards counselling in the areas of employment, debt repayment, education, or basic equipment for a new life.”

Alternative sentences such as community service or house arrest could also help overburdened prisons. In 2020, Czech courts handed out nearly 40,000 of them.

Although the number of convicts is falling, Czech prisons are still overcrowded. Some 8,000 people were incarcerated last year, with the overall number of prisoners exceeding 19,000.

Authors: Ruth Fraňková , Eva Šelepová
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