Winds of Change: Democratic Reform in the Polish Prison System

By Klenowski, Paul M. | Corrections Today, December 2004 | Go to article overview

Winds of Change: Democratic Reform in the Polish Prison System


Klenowski, Paul M., Corrections Today


During early July 2004, a delegation of criminal justice students and professors from both Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, and Indiana University of Pennsylvania in Indiana, Pa., embarked on an in-depth study of the Polish criminal justice system. During the two-week visit to Poland, students and professors learned firsthand about the past, present and future of the Polish justice system. Classroom lectures and guest speakers, comprised of ranking Polish criminal justice administrators, coupled with on-site visits to various police headquarters, courts and correctional facilities, allowed both students and professors to better comprehend the sometimes arduous process of criminal justice policy reform. By far, the most intriguing item of discussion brought to the attention of the academic delegation was the need for further reform of the Polish correctional system, especially regarding the issue of prison overcrowding.

Much like the United States, the Polish correctional system is in a state of crisis regarding the exponential growth of its prison population. Poland has roughly 39 million total inhabitants and its prison population rate is one of the highest in all of Europe. According to the Poland Central Board of Prisons, for every 100,000 inhabitants, 210 are currently incarcerated. Considering the rate was a mere 153 per 100,000 in 1992, and a staggering 350 and 580 per 100,000 during the 1980s, this recent increase should indeed cause a reason for concern among Polish justice officials. However, the issue of what to do has seen some valiant ideas and policies during the past 20 years, which have started to combat the issue of prison overcrowding in Poland. In fact, the roots of the Polish prison reform can be traced back to the mid-1990s. However, the issues of inadequate funding and resources continue to slow the prospects of such necessary penal reform. In order to better understand the problem, a more detailed history and analysis of the Polish correctional system is needed.

History

Under both communist and post-communist governments, the Polish penal system has traditionally operated under the auspices of national authority. Starting in 1956, the correctional system was under the Ministry of Justice. Institutions were classified by the criminal histories of the inmates coupled with the severity of their respective offenses. Each prison and jail had an appointed prison commission that classified inmates and adjusted their treatments according to the conduct of the inmate.

The Polish correctional system has been rooted in communist ideology since World War II. Modeled predominately after the Soviet Union, the Polish penal system became rife with corruption and brutality during a 40-year period until the late 1980s. Forced, uncompensated labor on private projects of prison administrators combined with horrendous living conditions became major sources of anger and resentment among Polish inmates. However, with the creation and implementation of the Polish solidarity movement during the early 1980s, there remained some hope for a new nation rooted in the idea of democracy for all. (1)

In 1989, the Polish Parliament passed an amnesty law that released hundreds of political prisoners but continued to confine recidivists. With no chance for rehabilitation, and forced to live in squalid prison conditions, the remaining inmates staged more than 500 prison riots from late 1989 through early 1990.

Finally in 1990, Pawel Moczydlowski, director of the Central Prison Administration, succeeded in stopping the violence and political corruption in Poland. More than one-third of all Polish prison correctional officers and three-quarters of all prison governors (wardens) were dismissed between 1990 and 1992. By mid-1992, roughly half of all Polish prison personnel had been in service less than three years, according to a 1998 special report of the Polish prison system director. …

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