Thesis for Workshop ”The principle of normality - a way to safer society -integration and treatment of inmates, what works and what not?”

The policy of punishments and their enforcement in Latvia faces challenges at the moment: we have acquired the knowledge of finding, reading and proper/correct speaking. The next step is to start thinking with responsibility and then act with responsibility.


The policy of punishments and their enforcement in Latvia faces challenges at the moment: we have acquired the knowledge of finding, reading and proper/correct speaking. The next step is to start thinking with responsibility and then act with responsibility.

Changes in viewpoints about punishment.

The policy of crime prevention is one of the oldest sub-sectors of politics in the history of humanity. It consists of written norms of law in the framework of which the society defines a model of human behaviour that prevents each individual from potential harm of somebody's harmful actions. Receiving the accept from the society, these norms obtain the power of law and become norms of law. Thus the society defines the accpeted behavioural model and the level of freedom of individual behaviour. In order to maintain legitimacy of the defined freedom level and ensure obeying the norms of law, the society has created this system of control for the enforcement of norms which nowadays is committed to the law enforcement agencies – the police, prosecutors office and courts. The illegal action has been named a criminal offence. However, it is not enough to realize the fact of illegal action (crime) and interrupt the harmful action. It is important that the fact of breaking the law leads to consequences that can prevent similar activities in future – this is the reason why the reaction of the state to an offence was developed and punishments were introduced as the means of this reaction.

Punishment is not a revenge but correction of behaviour.

Punishment is not only the consequences of a wrong human action or legal decision, it is an accepted and intentional reaction for the correction of individual's social behaviour which has developed rapidly over centuries. This evolution is directly connected to the values of society and common governmental policy. In the modern world punishment is not only a reactive instrument which allows the society to react and revenge within the norms of law in case of a crime thus giving also the offender a formal possibility to buy off the offense. Punishment does not cultivate revenge these days but teach responsible behaviour. Therefore, the modern punishment has both reactive and proactive qualities:

  1. reaction is used in order to control the law-breaking individual (supervision, restrictions on financial and physical freedom – probation supervision, penalty charge, isolation) but
  2. proaction is used to make changes in the system of values of the offender (correction of social behaviour) and to teach skills to live further in the society in accordance with the norms of law (rehabilitation).

Criminal policy has to ensure the need of the society for safety.

The aforementioned information allows drawing conclusions that the modern criminal policy is a multi-sector mechanism of social behaviour correction which aims at creating a safe social living environment and protect individuals from the consequences of harmful actions done by others.

The aim defined previously in this text is connected to the democatic values of the modern society which include the recognition of each individual (a) and inclusion in the society (b), not misrecognition and exclusion. The change of these considerations were the reason for the abolishment of death penalty in Europe.

With penalty we want to teach the offenders a responsible behaviour and provide them possibilities to live in the society in a respectful way, without harming themselves and others. To do this, the resocialization of punished individuals has become an integral part of punishment policy in Latvia. More and more, resocialization is based on the initial evaluation of risks and needs and then on the planning of intervention and interference in the life of an offender. Each judgement of the court, each punishment is not only the reaction but also an interference in the life of the offender. Taking that into consideration, it is important that the intensity of the intervention is really considered necessary for the implementation of resocialization process. Thus, for instance, it is not worth applying imprisonment to an offender if the resocialization process of the individual (to prevent behavioural risks) does not require isolation of the person from the society or it is not needed to apply long terms of imprisonment if the behavioural correction requires shorter periods of time. Here we speek both about the instrument of punishment and economy of state resources, as well as a thorough planning process of intervention for each individual offender in order to ensure the rights of proportionate punishment.

Obedience to law can be taught only through respect and responsibility.

From the Soviet times the traditions of penalty policy are still strong although they are not dominant in the last decade anymore. Many members of the society and even specialists of law enforcement agencies keep believing that:

  • humane material conditions in prisons is an excessive luxury because punishment has to be intimidating and humiliating, only then it will be effective;
  • the best crime prevention is fear from punishment and therefore it has to be severe.

Such conviction remains because people are not used to make an objective analysis of causes and effects but accept the quickest and easiest solution as the right one, irrespective of reaching the aim. If this part of society were right, we would not have criminality any more because the severe punishments and policy of intimidating would have exterminated it. However, it is not so..

Therefore, today we emphasize the proportionate punishments and appropriate processes of resocialization as the main contents of punishment. The process of resocialization has to include all the necessary components in order to cover each need of an offender (a convict) with a definite, systematic programme. Following the development of resocialization system for the convicts for many years, it is possible to conclude that the needs of convicts make a particular hierarchy starting from the most essential:

  • personal safety (physical and emotional), including trust in the fairness and reliability (ethics) of the punishment enforcement personnel and legality of actions (respectful relations);
  • health care, including treatment of drug and alcohol addiction and consultations by psychologist and psychiatrist;
  • need for intensive and targeted plan of resocialization which is fully clear to the convict himself, as well as moral or psychological support;
  • education, including general and professional;
  • intensive and useful activities all day long that are balanced with the time for relaxation;
  • training for working skills and paid work.

There has to be no doubts about the fairness and legality in the enforcement of punishments.

The system of punishment enforcement has to be reliable. It means confidence, safety and respect – if there are doubts about the fairness in the system of penalty enforcement, it automatically works against the defined aims of resocialization and cannot teach respect towards law but the opposite (a). The first task of resocialization is to ensure that the convict feels healthy, otherwise neither the correction of social behaviour nor rehabilitation is possible (b). The set of resocialization activities has to be elaborated for a particular period of time, the progress of the convict has to be evaluated and then changes to the resocialization plan have to be made. Such order makes sense to the plan of penalty enforcement (c). Great role in the lives of the convicts is devoted to the process of education – it is directly connected to the convict's ability to acquire a profession and earn means of subsistence in a legal manner (d). One of the most effective conditions of convicts' behaviour management and control during the penalty enforcement is an intensive daily schedule or the vizualization of the convict. The more intense and meaningful is the plan for a day, the more visible the convict is to the penalty enforcement officers/supervisors, irrespective, be they from probation or place of imprisonment (e). Taking into consideration that the convict has to pay the victim for the harm done, paid work in prison has an important role. However, the paid work of the convicts must not dominate over the convicts' needs for health, social skills, education or safety. Paid work cannot be the aim, it is just a secondary benefit, leaving the main priority to the correction of social behaviour (f).

Closest solutions:

One of the main problems in Latvia now is the inappropriate territory planning of prison premises for ensuring resocialization needs. Most of the prisons and their territories are built to organize the enforcement of punishments that are based on the values of the Soviet Union and directed towards the work of prisoners as a cheap workforce, not towards the individual work of resocialization. Due to that, new premises for imprisonment are needed in the following years with new possibilities for logistics of the prisoners.

At the same time, the supervision of convicts must be developed in the society and the conditional release from imprisonment has to be made more intensive so that the convicted people do not get stuck in the system of imprisoning just because of formal reasons. An essential role here could be assigned to the implementation of electronic system of supervision that could not only allow ensuring more intense supervision but also stimulate the change of penalty enforcement from prison to the society for those convicts whose levels of risk in prison would decrease until the level where the further isolation is not necessary anymore.


Thesis for Workshop " The principle of normality - a way for safer society - integration and treatment of inmates, what works and what not? (414.14 KB)", organised by Royal Norwegian Embassy in Riga.