• 2001-07-12
Imprisoning children when they're not guilty is a shocking, shameful and unnecessary abuse of human rights for Latvia to have as it continues on its winding westward path. Because it is so destructive for young people it is destructive to Latvian society as a whole.

Many juveniles can be left rotting in prison for years before they see any sign of a trial.

Once they are released, there is a complete lack of a probation service to supervise offenders (and non-offenders) to ensure that they are integrated back into society. Instead, more often than not they return to the same dysfunctional family environment they came from.

There is certainly nothing like a chance at decent education for young people once they fall behind bars.

According to the Soros-funded Center for Human Rights and Ethnic Studies in Riga, judges continue to receive little training on how to deal with young people - particularly young women - who find themselves confronted with crime and punishment.

Sensitivity concerning cases that involve sexual harassment is lacking, and there are few specialists trained in how to communicate with the victims of rape.

Many people in the criminal justice system, particularly the police, forget that many women who have committed violent crime have simply snapped under the weight of being subjected to horrific beatings and domestic abuse. Yes, it happens in Latvia, too.

There is no evidence to suggest that courts are prejudiced, but the fact that there is a high proportion of ethnic Russians in Latvia's prisons is a reflection of the ongoing polarization of two communities within the same country - a potentially explosive situation.

Many Russian speakers find themselves in Latvia as a result of Soviet (and Russian-driven) colonization. But now the country has found its independence once again it has a responsibility to come to the aid of an alarming new underclass which is disenfranchized and ignored. The obvious consequence of its failure to do so is more violence inflicted on innocent people, both ethnic Russian and ethnic Latvian.