By Hrach Melkumian
The Armenian authorities will begin to transfer next October the country’s prisons, currently run by the interior ministry, to the jurisdiction of the ministry of justice in line with their Council of Europe obligations, officials said on Thursday. The process will be completed within two months, according to the head of the ministry’s department of structural reforms.
The official, Nikolay Arustamian, told reporters in Yerevan that the change will allow to “de-militarize” Armenia’s system of criminal justice by turning its jails into “civilian institutions” where rights of prisons are better protected.
Last month the Armenian parliament passed a law in the first reading paving the way for the transfer -- one of the conditions for Armenia’s membership of the Council. But the law will not affect the pre-trial detention sites of police and the ministry of national security.
Arustamian said the interior ministry troops will continue to provide “external protection” of the prisons, something which the authorities believe is necessary for maintaining law and order there. He argued that the government is anxious to “avoid the mistakes of Georgia” where prison security declined considerably after the departure of police forces.
The total prison population of Armenia stood at approximately 6000 before a general amnesty declared by the government and approved by the National Assembly on June 12. The amnesty, devoted to the ongoing celebrations of the 1700th anniversary of Christianity in Armenia, affected one third of all convicts and criminal suspects.