Long-term structural problems in the Czech Republic, such as unaffordable quality housing for people with low incomes, precarious and undervalued employment for people with low qualifications, and complicated solutions to over-indebtedness are also reflected in efforts to return imprisoned people back to normal life. For those released with addiction, these problems are often associated with deteriorated health or the need to be treated for addiction even after release from prison.
“Providing housing is the most common order with which clients enter our project and systematic support in the form of case management. After their release, the most frequently available rooming houses are those with which the accompanying social workers have had a very negative experience. They perceive it as a very unsuitable environment for those released, due to the frequent presence and availability of addictive substances, violence, and the overall low quality of such housing,” says Jiří Mertl of Charles University in Prague, author of the evaluation report.
Representatives of nonprofit organizations also draw attention to the frequent demands of low-paid jobs that people often take up after serving their sentences. They often work hundreds of hours per month, often working more than 16 hours for several days in a row. Alcohol and stimulants in the form of methamphetamine then help them to overcome the stress caused by the demands of these jobs.
Support for released prisoners is also currently negatively affected by high inflation. One of the case managers states in the report, for example, that the funds that in some regions were sufficient to pay for three months of a client’s stay in a rooming house at the start of the project are now only enough for one month. In such a short period of time, the released clients cannot stabilize in any way.
The hard-to-predict time of conditional release
A frequently cited limitation that strongly influences the long-term work of case managers with clients in prisons is the unpredictability of court decisions on the conditional release of some prisoners. It is often not clear in advance when the court hearing will take place. When this happens, it is not clear until the last minute whether the person will be released, even if they meet all the requirements for parole. The regional and individual practice of individual judges may vary. After a promising but rejected application, many clients lose motivation for further cooperation with case managers. After the court’s decision on parole, the prisoner can finish the prison sentence from within a few hours to three days. (This depends on a possible appeal by the public prosecutor and other administrative steps in the specific prison.)
It is therefore very difficult for social workers to plan the eventual pick-up of the client in front of the prison gate and to accompany them in arranging housing and other necessities, as they had planned together in the client’s after-release plan. Often, they would have to block the time to pick up the client in front of the prison in the range of several hours to several days, which is not realistic. “On the basis of this experience, it is necessary to start talking among experts about a possible change in legislation or established practice. The solution may be that, after the court’s decision to release the person, a predetermined unchangeable period of time, for example, two weeks takes place, during which it would be possible to adequately prepare for the client’s release from prison. Or communication between judges and fellow addictologists/case managers before the trial could show whether the application meets the conditions for parole, and it would be possible to clearly state that this will happen or not,” says Jakub Michal, project manager for the implementation of case management in Czech prisons.
The handover of clients and follow-up of their support after release
Another mentioned limitation of cooperation with prisoners and their further support after release is the frequent situation that occurs when clients return to places in other parts of the country than the one where they were imprisoned. These are often regions which are not included in the current project, or regions such as the Moravian-Silesian, South Bohemian, or Ústí nad Labem regions, where there is not a sufficient network of addiction services. “At such moments, it is very difficult to arrange the ‘handover’ of the client to a local organization or service. At the same time, clients have to establish a new, trusting, therapeutic relationship with another person providing social work, which can be challenging and stressful for many,” adds Jiří Mertl.
Prison staff overload and staff turnover
Interviews with representatives of the non-profit organizations involved and contact persons from prisons confirm facts that have been repeatedly stated in many places and in the media. These are insufficient capacities and a great overload of the Prison Service. In the specific case of this project, this situation is reflected in the fact that the employees of the Prison Service, who are supposed to bring clients for consultations with case managers, are often overloaded with a number of other duties. It has repeatedly happened that they have not been able to negotiate the release of clients from employment at the time of the arranged meeting, etc. As a result of prison staff being overloaded, they also frequently leave their jobs, and newly arrived employees have to establish relationships and cooperation with case managers from non-profit organizations.
The difficulty of case managers’ work
According to interviews, case managers themselves also face frequent overload and high demands in their work. Many of them pointed out the difficulty of working with clients with addiction, which is more complicated than working with clients from regular prison programs. These people often deal with a complex of various, interrelated problems – from addiction itself to its related health problems, indebtedness, and the stigma associated with people released from prison in mainstream society. Many of them also have various mental illnesses, either triggered by drug use or present before, in which case the addictive substance served as a way for them to better cope with the disease. “The overall difficulty of working with these clients associated with the above-mentioned factors, such as accompanying those released to the number of places in the country and the difficulty of securing housing, employment, etc. for released clients is reflected in a high workload and an increase in stress and long-term frustration among case managers,” says Jakub Michal, describing the impact of the demanding work of case managers.
Proposals for changes based on interviews
Based on the interviews and the topics that emerged from them, the evaluation report also presents several specific proposals for changes that would lead to improved work with prisoners with addiction and the introduction of time management in Czech prisons. These are the following proposals:
1) To improve cooperation and coordination between NGOs and prisons
2) To make the conditional release of prisoners from prison more transparent and systematized
3) To increase the involvement of prison staff in case management – Where possible and where there is interest in it, it will be appropriate to include prison staff in case management. The staff can be more involved in preparing prisoners for release. In the current conditions, however, this goal is complicated, due to the high workload of prison staff. They often do not have the capacity for such cooperation, although they would be interested in it.
4) To ensure the continuity of case management even after the end of the project
2nd evaluation report of the project “Systemic provision of care for imprisoned drug users and its subsequent continuity after release (August 2023)
Václav Zeman, media support for the project
tel.: 732 151 250
As of the end of June 2023, 327 people in total have joined the project, of which 143 continued the project approximately one week before their release from prison, and 75 continue the program one week after their release. Twelve clients have successfully completed the project so far – i.e., they have remained on the project for six months after their release, and in the cases where stabilization occurs, for an even shorter period of time.
– 17 clients were transferred to another prison during the cooperation, and the cooperation had to be terminated.
– 21 clients had their participation in the project terminated due to an unsuccessful application for conditional release.
– nine clients ended up in the project due to an increase in their sentence.
– 38 clients quit due to personal reasons. (These numbers only refer to clients who could not or did not want to continue with the project in a given situation, not those who, for example, continued in the project after an unsuccessful application for parole.)
About the evaluation report:
The evaluation report was created between September 2022 and May 2023. The bases for the creation of the report were focus groups with guarantors of individual non-profit organizations involved in the project and with case managers of these organizations. A total of three focus groups and one interview instead of the focus group were carried out, due to the workload of a case manager. After the focus groups, interviews were conducted with contact persons from 12 prisons involved in the project. Then a second wave of interviews with guarantors and case managers from non-profit organizations took place (a total of 16 interviews). Questionnaires were the basis for the creation of the quantitative part of the report. Clients in prisons filled out questionnaires that reflect their perception of their own situation. Case managers filled out questionnaires on stabilization areas, which represent the case manager’s assessment of the client’s or clients’ situation.
The project “Systemic Provision of Care for Imprisoned Drug Users and its Subsequent Continuity after Release” is financially supported by the financial mechanism of the Norway Grants 2014–2021 in the Justice Programme.