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Act on the rehabilitation of minors. “We’re going back 140 years”

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– The Act on proceedings in juvenile cases is from 1982 and undoubtedly requires changes, because the reality has changed over these 40 years. Nevertheless, in the amendment passed today, we go back 140 years – estimates Małgorzata Michel from the Jagiellonian University. We check whose doubts and why are raised by the Act on the rehabilitation of minors adopted today.

On Thursday, the Sejm adopted the law on supporting and rehabilitating minors Ministry of Justice.

The project has over 900 pages and relates to many different issues from around the world, incl. education and rehabilitation. It assumes, for example, that juvenile perpetrators of the most serious crimes, such as murder or rape, will be obligatorily sent to correctional facilities. The stay in such an institution will be possible until the charge is 24 years old (so far 21 years old).

What are school principals afraid of?

Some of the entries cause anxiety in schools – e.g. Polish Teachers AssociationThe Polish National Association of Educational Staff and the Association of Dead Statutes criticize the provisions that assume that directors of educational institutions will be able to punish students in a similar way as family courts do today.

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School principals represented by OSKKO say directly that this is an authority that they did not ask for and another burden that hinders their work.

But the matter is not clear-cut, Deputy Minister Michał Woś, who is responsible for the new act, points out that the same provision is positively assessed by, for example, the Helsinki Foundation Human Rights. And he told our editorial office that HFHR lawyers believe that “the very mechanism of directors using instructions, warnings, apologies to the aggrieved party or specific works – with the consent of the parents – is right”.

– I would like to point out that the power of the director may be used only with the consent of the minor’s parents. If they decide not to, for example, clean up a glass scratched by a rascal, the case is referred to the standard course, i.e. to the court – reminds Woś.

In his opinion, the applicable law is “archaic and restrictive”. – We offer a toolkit for educators and family judges that will be tailored to a specific teenager – he assures. And he adds: – Even the opposition in the Sejm said that the law was needed and introduced many good changes.

In MS they believe that “student antics, although sometimes dangerous, do not usually result from demoralization, but are the result of problems with growing up or an excess of youthful energy. In such cases, there is usually no need to implement juvenile proceedings against the student, which may end in eg placement in a youth educational center. With a better educational result, the problem can be solved on the spot. ”

What is the threat of ten-year-olds?

The thing is that some of the provisions are still in doubt. For example, the opposition argues – as described in Thursday’s Gazeta Wyborcza – that the proposed regulations set the minimum age limit for liability for behavior that violates the legal order or constitutes indications of demoralization at the level of 10 years. According to the opposition, the lower limit should be 13-14 years.

Woś claims that this is a misunderstanding of the essence of the changes and told tvn24.pl: – Juveniles up to the age of 13 will be able to come to the reformatory, exactly like now, because the law does not change the age limit. However, children six or eight years old, as it is now, will not be able to go to court and, for example, a probation officer. Because we are raising the lower age limit – explains the deputy minister.

What does the Ombudsman expect?

Comments to the draft were submitted, among others, by office Ombudsman. On June 3, 2022, its representatives Katarzyna Kopystyńska (Team for the Execution of Punishments) and Magdalena Dziedzic (National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture) took part in the conference organized in the Sejm. “Support and rehabilitation or closing and punishing minors?”.

It was then that they pointed out that it is important in the work on the form of the act:

– distinguish educational measures into non-custodial and isolation measures (placement in an educational center),

– determine that the application of an isolation measure may be ordered only after it has been shown that properly implemented non-isolation measures were not effective,

– raise the age limit which allows for an educational measure of an isolation nature in relation to other (non-custodial) measures.

Conference participants also raised objections to the plan to create a new type of facility for minors – the District Educational Center, where minors who pose special educational problems or exhibit a significant degree of demoralization would end up. In practice, however, the regulations concerning this type of facility allow minors who have committed only offenses or tax offenses to be referred to them in particularly justified cases.

The act of 40 years ago and going back 140 years

We asked prof. Małgorzata Michel from the Jagiellonian University. – The Act on proceedings in juvenile cases is from 1982 and undoubtedly requires changes, because the reality has changed over these 40 years. Nevertheless, in the amendment passed today, we are going back 140 years – says the expert. And he immediately adds: – My main goal is to completely ignore the achievements in the field of pedagogy, including rehabilitation pedagogy, education, developmental psychology, children’s rights and, consequently, the achievements of civilization, which resulted in the fact that the child is treated as a person requiring special protection, support, help, education and security. On the other hand, a child who commits a punishable act requires a reliable diagnosis, rehabilitation, special educational methods and proper socialization – he emphasizes.

Her greatest doubts are the setting of the age of criminal record at 10 years of age “with a tendency to penalisation, isolation and punishment without the possibility of upbringing, therapy and medicalization with an emphasis on psychiatric interactions without taking into account the educational, socialization or rehabilitation issues”. – Instead of scientific achievements, we have populist slogans about isolation, we have stigmatization and promotion of violence in the light of the law – says the expert.

And he adds: – This is an election ball thrown by the government to be reflected by the public opinion, simple slogans softly reaching people without knowledge, based on social fear that some minors are threatening us.

Prof. Michel emphasizes that in civilized countries, isolation is being abandoned in favor of socialization. – Local systems of social rehabilitation are being created by closing facilities. And the punitive model of treating minors at risk of social maladjustment and crime adopted in the act is not based on scientific evidence and the results of Polish and foreign scientific research – he comments.

In her opinion, the language of the law is archaic, inconsistent with the modern nomenclature of special and social rehabilitation education, strongly stigmatizing, violating human rights and children’s rights. – This act does not answer any of the real problems affecting children and adolescents and their immediate environment, mainly family ones. It wastes the current achievements of social rehabilitation educators, addiction therapists, street educators, educators, etc. It can be assumed that, paradoxically, it will contribute to abuse, violence and an increase in juvenile delinquency – believes the educator.

The ministry announces success

Adoption of the bill by the Sejm, Deputy Minister Woś commented enthusiastically: – These regulations change the philosophy of the state’s actions towards minors. Sometimes it is better that, in the event of a minor offense, the school principal entrusts the minor with cleaning work for the school, than for this person to appear in court immediately.

What else will change if the bill is adopted by the Senate and signed by the president?

The upper age limit for staying in a correctional facility will change. Currently, people under the age of 21 remain in it, regardless of the committed criminal act and the results of social rehabilitation. The act introduces the possibility of extending the stay in the institution for a specified period, up to three years, if the current rehabilitation has not been successful. This provision applies to the perpetrators of the most serious crimes, and the decision to extend the stay in a correctional facility will be taken by the family court.

The new, stricter facilities (which are of concern to the opposition) will be intended for those who have committed a criminal act and have turned 13, and – in exceptional cases – for people who have not committed a criminal act, but are heavily demoralized (e.g. drink alcohol, use drugs) and the measures already applied against them were ineffective (eg young people ran away from youth care centers many times). The family court will decide on placement in such an institution

MS assures that the new regulations strengthen the procedural guarantees of minors. Young people will have the right to help a defense lawyer from the beginning of the activities with their participation, e.g. placement in a youth educational center or treatment institution, and in the event of a justified suspicion that a minor has committed a prohibited act. Minors who cannot afford a lawyer of their choice will benefit from the assistance of a public defense lawyer. It will be appointed by the family court after determining the existence of certain premises.

Main photo source: Shutterstock

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