Latvia might abolish conditional prison sentences

"They have dodged punishment again" – such is often the public opinion upon hearing that someone receives a conditional sentence in place of real deprivation. Public confusion is not entirely unwarranted, so the government is also preparing a reform possibly abandoning conditional sentences at all, Latvian Television reported July 13.

The Ministry of Justice (TM) intends to potentially renounce conditional prison sentences. This does not mean that offenders will immediately get real deprivation of liberty, as the punishment is intended to be replaced by probation supervision.

“We wanted to introduce another effective criminal penalty in the criminal system where, during the execution of the sentence, the authorities, in this case, the Probation Service, would try to influence the thinking of the infringer and correct their behavior leading to the crime,” explained Deputy Secretary of State for Justice Anda Smiltēna.

This includes, for example, adjustment programs and courses to reduce aggressive behavior, treatment for addictions and so on.

However, it is not quite clear why the two systems, namely conditional sentence and probation monitoring, could not stand in parallel.

A conditional sentence means that if a new infringement or a breach of probation conditions were committed during the trial, the conditional sentence would become a real deprivation of liberty and would have to be served in full, even if several years had passed since the beginning of the sentence. The infringer would have additional motivation to participate conscientiously in the adjustment programs.

The Chairman of the Saeima Legal Affairs Committee Andrejs Judins (New Unity) also warns about possible shortcomings in the planning of the Ministry of Justice.

"In the event of a person failing to comply with the conditional sentence requirements, he or she must serve the full sentence. If we renounce conditional sentences, then every day of probation supervision means serving a sentence – if they do something after 2.5 years of a 3-year probation, then only the half-year might [be served in prison]," said Judins.

The head of the Committee is also concerned by the intention of experts that drunk drivers who have killed people in accidents could only receive probation.

“Those who criticize conditional sentences – they want a real deprivation of liberty rather than a more gentle solution,” added Judins.

The Ministry of Justice will supplement these amendments and plan to re-direct them to the Cabinet meeting in August. If approved by the government, the changes to the law will begin to be evaluated by the Saeima Legal Committee.

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