The Office of the Ombudsman for Children, Croatia

The Ombudsman’s Office for Children in Croatia, a full member of the COPE network and represented by the Deputy Ombudsman for Children, Maja Gabelica Šupljika, has been working to improve the situation of children of imprisoned parents since 2006. This year, the Ombudsman’s Office has carried out visits to the following institutions within the prison system: Osijek prison, Rijeka prison, Split prison, Turopolje penitentiary and the correctional institute of Turopolje.

Invited by the Prison System Directorate of the Croatian Ministry of Justice, the Ombudsman’s Office for Children made a plenary presentation at the beginning of the second part of the programme “The prisoner as a parent”; a three-day educative programme for staff conducted in 12 prisons.

The Office has also begun its initial activities within the project “Mothers: strengthening women prisoners for parenting and resettlement within the labour market” (MAME: Osnaživanje zatvorenica za roditeljsku ulogu i uključivanje na tržište rada). Deputy Ombudsman Maja Gabelica Šupljika will prepare a review of the best European practices and motivating programmes aimed at establishing and maintaining parent-child bonds and supporting children whose parents are incarcerated within the prison systems of other European countries.

A presentation entitled “The rights of the children whose parent is in prison – European perspectives” was made at the recent annual ENOC (European Network of Ombudspersons for Children) conference in Edinburgh (Scotland) and at the conference entitled “Child in the City” in Odense (Denmark).

Since 2006, and in accordance with its legal powers, the Office has issued over 20 recommendations and proposals to the executive authorities of the Republic of Croatia, requiring actions to be taken towards more efficient protection of the rights of children whose parents are incarcerated. The bulk of the recommendations were addressed to the Prison System Directorate of the Croatian Ministry of Justice. The Directorate has accepted and realised most of the recommendations, with the result that the protection of the rights of children of incarcerated parents has been considerably improved. The recommendations and the outcomes include the following:

  • all penal institutions have set up special “child-friendly” rooms for child visits, enabling children to visit their parents in prison in appropriate conditions: the walls of these rooms feature children’s artwork and the space is complete with adequate furniture, educational materials and toys. In 2012, UNICEF donated toys and other materials to all penal institutions specifically for children visiting their parents. The Office has continued to recommend that the achieved standards be maintained and these rooms improved on a continual basis;
  • increased awareness and better training of the prison staff with regard to these children’s needs;
  • when sentencing individuals, more consideration should be given to the prison’s distance from the prisoner’s home and family; long distances being an obstacle to regular visits. This recommendation has been accepted only partially, as the set-up of penal institutions in Croatia is such that only specific institutions are suitable for certain types of prisoner;
  • improved record keeping of prisoners’ children and their visits, with a view to designing targeted activities. The annual reports of the prison system have in the past two years included a special chapter on children and described the cooperation with the Office of the Ombudsman for Children;
  • securing an equal status for all children irrespective of their parents’ legal status. Pursuant to regulations in force, children of pre-trial detention prisoners who are more than 14 years old communicate with their parents through a glass partition, which is what adult visitors must use. As this practice is not uniform enough, the Office also plans to propose amendments to the regulation in effect which governs this issue;
  • the judicial police tends to avoid thorough searches of children entering a penal institution as they can have a negative impact. These searches are conducted only in exceptional cases, where abuse and/or bringing prohibited items into prison have already been recorded;
  • hiring a larger number of psychologists and other experts to work in the prison system;
  • implementation of the special programme, “Prisoners as Parents”, in all penal institutions as a permanent feature;
  • designating an annual week of awareness for children of incarcerated parents at the beginning of June. Penal institutions mark this week, with varying levels of effort (joint activities for children and parents during child visits, exhibitions of children’s artwork, an increased number of visits, etc.);
  • celebrating important holidays with children. Activities include prisoners putting on performances for children and workshops for parents and children.

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