Kazaks Use Scare Tactics to Cut Youth Crime
Lukewarm response to new initiative intended to prevent adolescent crime.
By Yana Bachevskaya in Taldykorgan (RCA No. 579, 08-Jun-09)
The public response to an experiment to take schoolchildren round prisons to deter them from committing offences has been less enthusiastic than organisers hoped.
The interior ministry department in Taldykorgan, the administrative centre of the southeastern Almaty region, has teamed up with local schools and psychologists to design a programme to prevent children identified as at risk of becoming involved in crime.
The overall aim of the initiative is to prevent offences before they happen.
The most controversial measure involves tours of pre-trial detention centres, the idea being that once adolescents see the harsh reality of detention facilities, they will think twice before offending.
Taldykorgan is only one of a number of cities in Kazakstan where prison visits are being piloted.
Lieutenant-Colonel Samet Nurgaliev, who heads the Taldykorgan police’s department for juvenile affairs, explained that the programme targets children who are on the records as having been in trouble.
“The head of the detention centre will conduct the tour and explain the kind of offences that can result in a custodial term, and the consequences of seemingly petty mischief,” said Nurgaliev.
In Almaty region, senior inspector Major Nurakhmet Kobeykhan says nearly 5,000 minors were detained from January to the end of April, although only 80 recorded crimes were ascribed to them.
Although statistics on the interior ministry’s webite suggest the incidence of youth crime in Kazakstan is falling at a rate of six or seven per cent year by year, minors are still responsible for 44 per cent of all crimes and eight per cent of serious ones.
In Taldykorgan, the pilot projects – launched in late April – are running in just two schools at the moment, because the public response to the government-backed scheme less than positive.
According to Dilbar Tulegenova, the head of a group of experts dealing with minors, says the project had to be introduced in a scaled-down version.
“We approached schools in the region with the idea. When we failed to find support for it, we decided not to introduce it region-wide and we selected two schools for the experiment,” said Tulegenova, in remarks quoted by the Informburo news agency on May 4.
Rimma Razbaeva, deputy head of one of two schools participating in the project, explained that the prison visits were only one element of the programme designed to address behavioural problems.
Since the beginning of the year, teachers and police have been working closely with the families of such children, through home visits, school meetings and one-to one sessions.
According to Razbaeva, “We conducted assessments, selected children liable to offend, and – after obtaining consent from their parents, a psychologist, and a school inspector – we took them to the detention centre.”
Gulmira Juaspaeva, a teacher at the other school in involved in the scheme, said, “The visit was depressing for the pupils, who are children, after all. They saw with their own eyes the ‘attractions’ of life behind bars…. All too often children never think about responsibility. The damp, dark cells will remind them that punishment is inevitable.”
For the children who took part, the experience was an eye-opener.
Ludmila Chetvergova said her grandson “came back depressed from the trip; he didn’t like what he saw”.
Damir Haibulin,, whose daughter volunteered to visit a detention centre rather being required to go, said, “I support the school’s initiative. Such trips are not only useful, they are essential. If some pupils don’t understand what’s being said, they could even be left in a cell for a few hours.”
His daughter Ruzia said, “I wanted to compare the way it looks in movies with how it is in real life. It was cold and dark in the cells. I was surprised that there was no table and that the toilet was next to the bed, all in the same room.”
She said the visit had a salutary effect on her classmates, “Our boys immediately changed their view of prison as an adventure. They were all in shock, but it was valuable for those who misbehave.”
Many parents and relatives, however, were unhappy with the idea that children should be shocked into obeying the law.
“As a former kindergarten teacher, I think such educational measures are inappropriate,” said Chetvergova. “They will see the negative side of life when they grow up…. They should be being taken to museums, theatres and exhibitions and taught to create, not destroy.”
Andrei Kirpichnikov said he would never let his 15-year-old daughter visit a prison.
“You won’t stop crime using such methods.,” he said. “Parents should teach their children by example. Real hooligans won’t be afraid of a detention centre, and well-behaved children shouldn’t go.”
This article was originally published on http://iwpr.net
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