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Life in a World of Doubt and Mistrust

13.05.2020

Netsan Londaridze, Penalreform.org 
 
Children require special protection and thus cannot be treated as adults. In our country, the Juvenile Justice Code determines the policy and principles which need to apply to children approaching the age of criminal liability. Despite many flaws in the legislation, child-centered justice is certainly a step forward. The advantage of restorative justice is that it allows a juvenile in conflict with the law to realize his or her liability for the act committed and redress the consequences of the crime.
 
Juvenile justice legislation applies to all children who have reached the minimum age of criminal liability but have not reached the age of 18.

When children enter the justice system, the country’s domestic courts and legal experts must take into account that children differ from adults regardless of their status – be it a victim, a witness, an accused or a convict. The child, his development, and safety should be a priority, and to approach the justice system uses the principle of best / genuine interest. This principle requires that at all stages of the administration of justice where minor takes part, the best, genuine interest of the child must first be taken into account.

The social services, psychologists, and lawyers who have undergone juvenile justice training and have received the right to participate should be involved from the moment the child comes in contact with the justice system.

For law, the minor in conflict with the law is every child suspected of violation of the criminal law or is found liable for violating it. For me, I associate the child in conflict with the law with eyes – with eyes full of doubt, mistrust, and interest. After the first call to the lawyer which tells us about another arrest and asks for help, these are the eyes we meet. The detainee is a minor. Data from recent years show that crime among minors has increased, especially thefts.

On this occasion, it is the same, the age of 15, a meeting in a temporary detention isolator. After opening the door, I look at eyes full of familiar expressions. It is especially difficult to talk to them; they create a barrier from the very beginning, trying to hide their fear since showing it is unacceptable for them. Gaining trust is the primary task for the lawyer and I should conduct the conversation precisely to earn it. Although I work at the Human Rights Center, at the organization where we study the legal status of convicts in penitentiary institutions and provide legal help to detainees, every case is still like the first one, full of emotions. Here, the key is to find the right path in a world full of contradictions.

The detective, whom I find with Luka (the name has been changed), hurries to interrogate him. Upon entering the room, I ask to stay alone with Luka, sparking surprise in his eyes. They leave us unattended. I don’t want him to testify until he speaks sincerely. We need time. He finally broke the ice and told me amiably: “I had pawned my subject, it was mine.” “How is that?” – I cannot hide my surprise. “I won it” – there was an answer. He wholeheartedly believed that he had done the right thing because he rented a hotel room to have fun with a friend; after his friend left he bet on the TV, which was in the room with one of his friends, he won it and pawned the item he won by using his ID card. The only thing Luke asked for while being in the temporary detention isolator was talking to a psychologist.

During a day I was thinking if a prison cell could be the solution for this teen to comprehend committed. The prison environment, by its informal rules, leads to oppression and violence. Prison is a separate small state with its strict rules, full of suspicion and mistrust gazes. At this point, I remember a teenager from a juvenile facility who managed to escape from this environment by closing in solitude in his cell. He locked the cell voluntarily. This happens when a convict voluntarily refuses the open type movement, does not leave the cell, does not communicate with others, and enjoys the right to walk only if other detainees are in the cells. When asked about the reason, he tilted his head and mumbled: ‘’I don’t want to be a part of this world.’’ A brutal informal law of isolation cannot be touched. We must admit. The prison is ruled by a law of powers.

During our last meeting, when I was saying goodbye, Luka stopped me and said with shining eyes: Mrs. Nestan, I will continue to attend the dance classes. Luka did not go to the prison, the diversion mechanism was imposed on him.

The story of the former prisoner David (the name is changed) is different, a minor was imprisoned when we did not have juvenile justice; and the norms of the criminal justice were imposed in its full severity: the parents died early, he lived with his aunt, was working at a car wash, and was taking care of his disabled sister; one day he was arrested for robbery and while being in prison his sister died, no one showed interested in his fate. The term of the imprisonment was increased later because of his membership in the thieving world. He was released after 12 years of imprisonment, in poor health. The status of a former prisoner was following him everywhere. There should have been only three people in his company, otherwise, he was getting anxious; he was waking up at midnight, was roaming around the room until morning, and was counting the footsteps like he was at his cell; he was not leaving the room. During the day, he could not stand it any longer, was leaving behind Tbilisi, and in the forest where there would be no onlookers, he was screaming.

There are many barriers for them, the societal stigma, convictions, even if they are receiving the education, it is almost impossible to find a job.

The purpose of the “Juvenile Justice Code” is to ensure that child-centered justice has the advantage over criminal prosecution. Imprisonment of minors, as punishment, to be the last resort when other lenient sanctions turn out to be ineffective. Restorative justice measures should help a child in conflict with the law to comprehend committed, the harm caused, and to take responsibility for his or her actions. However, this is not always possible and there are many examples. In such a case, the solution should be imprisonment.

Until juvenile will think he or she touched, possessed, damaged the item “because it belonged to him/her” there will be his/her truth, which will burden the perception of reality. Children need special care and we need to teach them to live without doubt and distrust.

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