Promotion of community service work as an alternative to imprisonment in Romania

Article, 13.09.2012

As part of its enlargement contribution to Romania, Switzerland supports Community Service Workshops as an alternative to imprisonment. This integrative and low-cost form of punishment is provided in four workshops. It provides Romanian judges with an alternative to short prison terms. The system is based on a model from Zürich that has been running successfully in Switzerland since 1998. Persons sentenced to short prison terms can keep their job and remain in their familiar environment. They do not need to be reintegrated into society because they do not go to prison at all. It also seems that the rate of recidivism is lower.

The project for the reintegration of offenders by means of work in the community in Romania has been running since 2007.Until the middle of 2011 it was financed by theCanton Zurich (lottery fund) and a private association for the development of probation services in Eastern Europe (VEBO). Romania became a member of the EU in 2007. Bilateral cooperation between Switzerland and Romania now continues in the form of the Swiss enlargement contribution.In 2008VEBO established the Foundation for the Promotion of Community Service (FPSC), which implements the project.

Prisons are reaching the limits of their capacity

Measures to modernise the system of justice and the prison system are urgently needed, not only in Romania. Throughout the world, many prisons have reached the limit of their capacity and can no longer perform their task of reintegrating offenders. As a result, prison costs are constantly increasing, recidivism is high and the overall security situation is deteriorating. The idea of promoting community service instead of imposing prison sentences aims to be a real alternative to imprisonment. This form of service is only available for offenders who would normally be sentenced short terms of imprisonment. In Switzerland for example the community service limit is a maximum of 180 days imprisonment.


Community work increases the likelihood of social reintegration because the offender's social network remains intact. This can have a positive effect on crime prevention. © SDC

Community service as an opportunity for successful reintegration

Community service is carried out in free time, it is unpaid and is for the benefit of the community as a whole. It is carried out in non-profit-making institutions such as hospitals, old people's homes, protection of the environment or the public service. Offenders can maintain their social network and can continue to do remunerated work.

The aim of the project is to offer reliable and efficient possibilities of community work for offenders sentenced to up to 180 days of imprisonment and thus to establish this form of punishment in Romania's penal system. At the moment this kind of sanction is still an inadequate alternative for most Romanian judges, mainly because community service options and infrastructure are not sufficiently available. Parliament has already started work on a reform of the criminal code but the reform has not yet entered into force. As soon as it does, a notable increase in community service as an alternative method of punishment is likely. This project lays the foundation stones so that in future enough places will be available.

pilot workshop in Brasov

The pilot workshop in Brasov was opened at the end of 2008. Here the annual equivalent of 10,000 days in prison are worked in the form of community service by offenders sentenced to short terms. © SDC

Pilotworkshop in Brasov has been up and running since 2008

The project takes advantage of Swiss expertise and experience in providing community service options for offenders. The Zurich Foundation for the Care of Prisoners (ZSGE) has been organising community service ofthis kind in Zurich since 1998 and has been involved in this project since the beginning in 2007. The Zurich project was the model for the first Romanian workshop in the town of Brasov. At the end of 2008 a first pilot workshop offering community service options was opened. The workshop offers community service for persons who would otherwise have had to spend a total of 10,000 days in prison. This is the equivalent of 30 prison places a year.

In summer 2012 a delegation of Swiss state councillors visited the Brasov workshop to gain a first-hand impression of its work. They were very impressed by the project. At the end of 2011 workshop was opened in Bucharest and in July 2012 one was opened in Timisoara. A fourth workshop is in the planning stage and is due to open in the spring of 2013.

electrical and electronic devicesare

In the Brasov workshop electrical and electronic devicesare recycled, thus creating an additional environmental benefit. © SDC

Job and social environment to remain the same

Community work increases the chances of social integration because the offender's social network remains the same. This can have a positive effect in terms of crime prevention. The offender can continue to do his job and can carry out community work on weekends or in the evening. This means that offenders sentenced for short periods of imprisonment can keep their jobs and remain in their familiar social environment. After a period of imprisonment, offenders often find themselves without work and without social contacts. The danger of reintegration failure following imprisonment is significantly reduced and the rate of recidivism is lowered. In addition, offenders learn new handicraft skills and social skills. The workshop option is also far cheaper than imprisonment. This reduces expenditure by the state. In Brasov electrical and electronic devices are taken apart, then separated into harmful and valuable substances. The sale of the valuable substances brings in a small income. As the devices are disposed of in an environmentally correct way, there is an additional environmental benefit.

Community work instead of prison has a fourfold function: it is a punishment, service for the community, low-cost form of punishment and a form of environmental protection.

Thomas Stauffer, head of the enlargement contribution office in Bucharest, at the opening of the workshop inTimisoarain summer 2012.

Thomas Stauffer, head of the enlargement contribution office in Bucharest, at the opening of the workshop inTimisoarain summer 2012. © SDC

Switzerland is contributing just under CHF 1 million to this project, which lasts until 2014. After this date the parties involved will conduct a comprehensive analysis of the project results and on this basis they will decide if the project will be continued. Switzerland is also contributing to a reintegration project for young offenders in the Czech Republic (see further information and documents).

Infobox: the project as part of the thematic fund security

The project is part of the thematic fund security, one of seven funds being used to implement SDC-financed projects in Romania. The fund for security projects amounts to CHF 18 million. By the end of August 2012, 12 projects had been approved, and further projects will follow. One project combats human trafficking and corruption, another project trains local police forces in Rohrer led areas. Detailed information can be obtained from the project database. Swiss institutions were selected for the implementation of these funds and the corresponding projects. Here you will find an overview of the SDC thematic funds for Bulgaria and Romania and of the responsible fund administrators.

Projects with a total value of CHF 181 million have been implemented in Romania as part of the Swiss enlargement contribution.