Armenia’s prisons are completely overwhelmed. Through the mix of post-soviet views on being tough on crime and the fact that Armenia is a developing country has caused the prisons system to be both overused and under-resourced for the job.
On June 19, Manvel Hazroyan committed suicide at Nubarashen prison, a notoriously overcrowded prison. The 22-year old was serving a sentence of life in prison for a murder occurred during his military service. The Human Rights Ombudsman made a statement of how Hazroyan’s suicide is a reminder of the significant problems within the system, including the completely insufficient one psychologist per 100 prisoners. While Hazroyan would be eligible for parole after 20 years, other life-termers have not received parole even after serving the 20 years, according to the Armenian Program of Innocence NGO.
Clergyman Rev. Gevorg Hovannisian, recently spoke with all 100 prisoners serving life sentences, and promotes giving convicts an opportunity for repentance and correction. Hovannisian emphasized how each story is unique and each prisoner should be considered uniquely. He even took on the role of developmental psychologist to push for a change in the law that blocks a life sentence for those under the age of 21. His emphasis on rehabilitation is commendable, but there is no response to the question of how Armenia will pay for the rehabilitation programs.
Fortunately, Armenia has agreed to a European-pushed prison reform project. The relatively cheap €300,000 project will decrease overpopulation, promote probationary sentences, and bring the penitentiary system in compliance with European and international laws and treaties.
Ideally, these reforms will help reform some of the prison culture that makes physical abuse a far-too-common occurrence. With less crowding and modern facilities, it’s possible that a higher level of professional will be expected from the prison guards.