The Czech Republic faces the fourth-highest incarceration rate in the EU. This situation creates a pressing need for effective reintegration programs for ex-prisoners. Yet, this is precisely what is lacking. The absence of such support for inmates exacerbates recidivism. In fact, in Czechia, 70% of released inmates return to prison.
Addressing this gap, the Rubikon Centre, a Czech NGO, has been assisting inmates with reintegration for over 30 years. Recently, it has started collaborating with WayBack, a Norwegian CSO run entirely by former inmates.
Their mission is to integrate those with firsthand prison experience into the Czech justice system’s policymaking process.
Gaining the necessary skills
Through the project “Our Voice Matters”, funded by the Active Citizens Fund, the Rubikon Centre and WayBack cooperate on training 13 individuals with experience from prison on how to advocate for change in the prison system.
Johan Lothe, the director of WayBack, developed a training module which includes topics such as lobbying, legislative processes, presentation skills, argumentation, negotiation, and more. This program, culminating in an intensive live training session in Czechia, aims to equip participants with a robust toolkit to push for change.
Director of WayBack
Johan emphasizes the value of the experience that former inmates bring:
To reach the North Pole, you seek guidance from someone who’s navigated that path.Johan Lothe, Director of WayBack
Indeed, prisoners often know best what it is that worked for them, that helped them to reintegrate into society and stay out of prison.
Project: “Our Voice Matters”
- Objective: Empowering individuals with prior prison experience to effectively advocate for justice system improvements in the Czech Republic.
- Partners: Rubikon Centre and WayBack, Norway
- Grant awarded: €75,042.12
- Project duration: 17.05.2022 – 31.03.2024
Barriers to entry
Ex-inmates face many challenges upon release, including overcoming debt, securing employment, and finding stable housing. The widespread stigma against former inmates furthers these obstacles, creating a cycle of exclusion.
Norway has gone further than most in trying to address these challenges. The Norwegian prison system is known for its focus on reintegration and its low staff-to-inmates ratio, with staff encouraged to interact and support inmates’ societal re-entry.
Marek Demner, Project Manager at the Rubikon Centre, contrasts this with the situation in Czechia. He says “Many Czech prisons operate at 110% capacity, leading to overcrowding and limited reintegration efforts.”
Project Manager at the Rubikon Centre
A key element of Norway’s success is involving former inmates in advising on criminal justice policies. The Rubikon Centre and WayBack aim to replicate that in the Cech Republic. Marek Demner emphasizes:
The experience from prison gives a unique perspective for creating a more effective justice system.Marek Demner, Project Manager at the Rubikon Centre
Drawing Inspiration from Norway
The Rubikon Centre is inspired by WayBack’s commitment to hiring people with experience from prison. That is why they recruit some of the participants in the training. Rubikon Centre involves them in supporting inmates with similar stories. One of the members of WayBack shares his experience from the project:
We are better accepted once they understand we have been in prison, too.Participant from WayBack
The collaboration between WayBack and the Rubikon Centre brings together Norwegian best practices and Czech needs. Equipped with valuable skills, the Rubikon Centre is committed to advocating for improvement in the justice system.
Written by Ani Kovacheva