Across Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, civil society efforts have been instrumental in achieving progress in respect for human rights in places of detention and in humanization of criminal justice policies during the democratic transition. While progress has been uneven across the region, the pace of reforms has generally slowed down in recent years.
A number of countries are experiencing stagnation or even backlash, and the threat of punitive tendencies in politics and public opinion is growing. The international security agenda has negatively impacted penal politics directly or indirectly across the region, and some countries are experiencing worrying anti-democratic trends that may increase punitive tendencies. Countries in the region continue to rely on imprisonment as the prime form of punishment, causing serious overcrowding which in turn produces more violence and inhuman conditions.
In order to launch, reinvigorate or step up penal reform efforts in the region, the Human Rights and Governance Grants Program (HRGGP) seeks NGO advocacy projects in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, South-East Europe and the former Soviet Union aimed at achieving a clear change in penal policy and/or practice. HRGGP welcomes projects in the three priority areas listed below.
Promoting Respect for Human Rights in Prisons
The term "prison" refers to all kinds of penitentiary institutions and pre-trial detention centers.
Regular and periodic visits by independent monitoring groups are central to protecting the rights of detainees. In the absence of outside pressure, human rights abuses in prisons are allowed to go unchecked. Unfortunately, NGO monitoring remains the only source of independent information on prisons in most countries.
HRGGP welcomes advocacy projects that aim at strengthening respect for human rights and public oversight in prisons. Strategies include, but are not limited to:
- Strengthening safeguards within prisons and the criminal justice system to reduce and prevent human rights violations and violence in prisons through, for instance, the establishment of internal complaints mechanisms in prisons or improving access to legal aid for detainees;
- Improving systems of public oversight and independent monitoring mechanisms, such as the introduction of OPCAT National Preventive Mechanisms or other independent oversight bodies;
- Increasing the transparency and accountability of prison management and the use of public funds;
- Encouraging success of future reentry by maintaining detainees' ties to the outside world through measures, such as liberalizing visiting regulations, leaves from prison, working outside the prison, and the access of NGOs or volunteers to prisons.
Challenging the Overuse of Incarceration
Overcrowding in a large number of prisons across the region has been documented repeatedly by civil society actors and international bodies, and is acknowledged by state agencies. However, overcrowding is accepted as an unalterable reality. The construction of new prisons is often considered to be the only viable solution. There is very little discussion at the policy level about the causes of overcrowding, its consequences, and a range of possible solutions. The idea that certain people such as juveniles for instance, should be incarcerated only in rare exceptional cases if at all, is scarcely entertained. In fact, the age of criminal responsibility has been lowered in several countries of the region.
Whether imprisonment is appropriate for individuals who have committed non-violent petty crimes has also yielded little debate. Despite the adoption of legislation on alternatives to imprisonment across the region, very little progress has been made in substituting non-custodial alternative sentences for imprisonment. While some progress has been achieved in reducing the use of pre-trial detention, too many countries continue to rely on incarceration even when alternatives are available.
HRGGP welcomes advocacy projects that challenge the overuse of incarceration and offer more viable alternatives to imprisonment. Strategies include, but are not limited to:
- Taking steps to reduce the prison population, especially among the most vulnerable groups, such as juveniles, pregnant women, people with mental disabilities, people with serious health conditions; as well as first-time or non-violent offenders and people in pre-trial detention;
- Challenging the myth that punitive penal policies lead to heightened security;
- Strengthening the application of alternative sentences to incarceration.
Combating Discrimination in Sentencing, Prisons and Reentry
Although there is plenty of indirect evidence about discrimination in criminal justice systems in the region, there has been little research to uncover discrimination in sentencing, during incarceration or after release. For instance, even though ethnic profiling by police has been documented in several countries, there is scant research on ethnic discrimination in sentencing or other phases of the criminal justice procedure. Discrimination leading to violence during incarceration is very rarely documented, even though instances of violence against members of the LGBT community are well-known. There is very little data about the discrimination that people released from prison experience in the labor-market or in access to services, even though individuals with a criminal record are routinely barred from legitimate employment in most countries of the region.
HRGGP welcomes research and advocacy projects that seek to remove discriminatory barriers or reduce discriminatory practices in order to combat discrimination in sentencing, prisons and reentry. Strategies include, but are not limited to:
- Addressing disparities and injustice in sentencing practices, which disadvantage certain groups or individuals;
- Uncovering discrimination suffered during incarceration by certain groups of detainees;
- Documenting discrimination experienced by people released from prison in employment, access to housing or services, and enjoyment of civil and political rights.
The Human Rights and Governance Grants Program provides support to domestic and international NGOs active in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Coalitions of NGOs are also encouraged to apply.
Recognizing that those most impacted by penal policies should be included in reform efforts, participation of people with criminal records is welcome.
Successful projects must have clearly defined advocacy goals and detailed plans for how they will be achieved. Proposals should also include communication strategies for generating heightened support for penal reform efforts, including campaigning and mobilizing elements as appropriate.
Funding will be provided to advocacy projects addressing one or more of the above priority areas through research and advocacy, impact litigation, and policy analysis. HRGGP does not provide support for stand-alone trainings and conferences, service provision, or individual academic study/ research/ travel.
Application Procedure & Deadlines
Applications may be submitted for projects lasting up to 24 months. Concept papers of 2-3 pages may be submitted on an ongoing basis to HRGGP. Please send submissions to the following email address: email@example.com
Grant decisions in 2010 will be made in two rounds:
- Concept papers submitted before January 20, 2010, will receive final decisions by May 1, 2010.
- Concept papers submitted before August 1, 2010, will be notified of funding decisions by November 30, 2010.