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Czech NGO helps Roma people help each other stay out of prison

Prague, 20.5.2011 14:30, (ROMEA)

The Prague-based non-government non-profit organization Association for Probation and Mediation in Justice (Sdružení pro probaci a mediaci v justici) is running a project called "Roma Helping Roma" through which the group has ensured its successful Mentor service will continue and develop. This service contributes toward more effective work with Roma clients of the Probation and Mediation Services of the Czech Republic, i.e., Roma people who have been or may be sentenced to alternative measures or punishments. In 2009, the Mentor service won a prestige award in a competition for innovative projects in the area of criminal justice, the Crystal Scales of Justice, a joint project of the European Commission and the Council of Europe. "Roma Helping Roma" started on 1 May 2011 and will run for 30 months.

Roma clients of the Probation and Mediation Services often get into further problems with the law because failure to meet the conditions of the alternative punishments to which they are sentenced, which are then converted into prison sentences without the possibility of parole. This negatively impacts not only those convicted, but also their families and social environment. This outcome increases the risk of recidivism and last but not least costs the state more money.

The reasons Roma people do not fulfill the terms of their alternative sentences are usually banal: They do not understand the official language of the court's verdict, they have a low level of legal knowledge, they do not trust state institutions, they are not willing to communicate with their representatives, or there is a language barrier. In such situations a Roma mentor can help. Roma mentors are trained lay people from the Roma community who thanks to their cultural and linguistic closeness to the clients are able to overcome his or her mistrust and motivate him or her to successfully complete the alternative sentence.

The project "Roma Helping Roma", co-financed from the European Social Fund through its Operational Programme Human Resources and Employment and from the state budget of the Czech Republic, ensures the activity of approximately 65 Roma mentors until October 2013 in seven regions of the Czech Republic: Hradec Králové, Karlovy Vary, Liberec, Pardubice, South Bohemia, and Ústí. "Our organization already has seven years of experience with Roma mentoring. During that time we have trained 90 Roma mentors who have worked with more than 900 clients. The success rate of the mentor's interventions has long been around 50 %, but in 2010 it increased to 60 %," said project coordinator Marek Demner. "We believe the 'Roma Helping Roma' project is an opportunity to increase the effectiveness of our key services and move them forward. In addition to working in centers run by the Probation and Mediation Services of the Czech Republic, we will also offer probation officer social services for Roma adults and youth through collaboration with the Roma mentors. In the individual regions there will be counselors on debt and legal matters who will help members of excluded Roma communities to address their indebtedness," Demner said.

For more information, contact: Marek Demner, Sdružení pro probaci a mediaci v justici, o.s., +420 296 180 297, +420 739 470 408, demner@spj.cz, http://www.spj.cz, www.mentoring.spj.cz

Gwendolyn Albert, tisková zpráva, Press release of the Sdružení pro probaci a mediaci v justici, o.s. (Association for Probation and Mediation in Justice), translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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