Source: (2004) Paper presented at the Third Conference of the European Forum for Victim-Offender Mediation and Restorative Justice, “Restorative Justice in Europe: Where are we heading?", Budapest, Hungary, 14-16 October. Downloaded 24 May 2005.

There are a number of common features of the criminal justice systems in the countries situated in the Central and Eastern part of Europe, also known as "former socialist countries", or "former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics". They have been recently called also "Newly Independent States". The influence of the Soviet Union on these countries had imprinted some specific elements regarding the criminal policy, the system of sanctions, as well as the public opinion on crime and punishment. One can easily see in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, in the Baltic States Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), to a certain degree also in Romania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, etc. a highly punitive criminal sanction system, using detention as main tool of punishment and long term imprisonments resulting in high number of detained people. Accordingly, there are overcrowded prisons, increased recidivism, difficulties of reintegrating offenders into the communities and there is low community participation in the processes of offenders’ reconciliation. The table on the right presents the situation of the detention in some of the European countries. Compared to the medium level of detention in the 15 countries, i.e. in the member states of the European Union before its extension on 1st of May 2004, which constituted 97 detainees per 100.000 inhabitants on 1st of January 2004, this number is six times higher in case of Russia (584 detainees), four times higher in Ukraine (416 detainees) and twice as high in Romania (190 detainees). What are the causes of this situation? What has happened? What to do in order to achieve some beneficial changes? To answer these questions, a short overview of the criminal sanctions before the 90’s should be given. (excerpt)