For the past few years, the FAR Children’s Center has worked alongside Armenia’s government to help reform the juvenile justice system. Most recently, it took the lead role to implement a juvenile crime prevention and justice program in cooperation with OSCE’s Yerevan Office.
While international standards push for comprehensive policies focusing on crime prevention and alternatives to judicial procedures and incarceration for juveniles, Armenia’s system lacks the system to act in accordance with such standards. Authorities in the current system do not have a joint strategy and agencies don’t communicate with one another to align their resources, knowledge or goals. The result is a system that actually puts youth more at risk for contact with the legal system, rather than with a system that works toward prevention. Ultimately, children and youth are more likely to be harmed by the juvenile justice system than kept out of it.
The Center is working on reforms that focus on deinstitutionalization and better integrated social services, both aimed toward a legal shift in the juvenile justice system, and ultimately the prevention of juvenile crime. The government already started the deinstitutionalization process in Vanadzor and Sisian in 2015. In 2017, they will attempt the same at two more institutions, with the goal of linking deinstitutionalization with increased access to rehabilitation services for juveniles.
“During this very short period we already managed to develop a strategic plan according to which we will be building the state policy of the prevention of juvenile crime and reduction of the potential causes and conditions,” said Mira Antonyan, Executive Director of Children’s Center.
Also, during the five months that FAR’s project was conducted, several trainings were held for professionals who work in this area, including case managers, police officers working with juveniles, representatives of guardianship committees, experts in child protection departments of regional administrations, and NGO representatives. Discussions and workshops took place in the five provinces of Yerevan, Lori, Ararat, Armavir and Syunik to explain the reforms being implemented in the social protection system and the effect they would have on the juvenile justice system. Fifty participants from Berd and Gyumri cities took part in the two-day courses.
In addition, manuals were developed through the project, one of the most important of which was a catalog of more than 200 governmental and non-governmental organizations that provide social services in support of children and families. The database will help fill the gap of information on the current programs and services existing in Armenia and will allow professionals to quickly orient themselves with the programs and services geared specifically for children [and their families] who have been involved in crime. Another manual focuses on communication with the media to ensure experts properly and ethically acceptable express themselves about the juvenile justice and issues related to the prevention of juvenile crime.