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By Karine Kalantarian
A private Polish foundation will spend an undisclosed amount of money on combating alcoholism and drug addiction among Armenian prisoners, officials announced on Thursday.

Justice Minister David Harutiunian said the program funded by Poland’s Stefan Batori Foundation will offer relevant convicts treatment on a voluntary basis. Doctors will use no medicines in the process and will instead rely on their powers of persuasion, he said.

“Convicts will form groups, talk about their woes and kick the habit little by little,” explained the director of Armenia’s main prison hospital, Samvel Ghazarian.

Alcohol and drug abuse have been on the rise in the past decade but are still not seen as a serious problem in Armenia. Police reported 416 drug-related crimes last year and there were only 526 drug addicts registered with the Armenian Health Ministry.

“It can’t be said that there are many drug addicts in penitentiary institutions,” Harutiunian told reporters. “But they are not few either.”

Samvel Hovannisian, head of a Justice Ministry division running the Armenian prisons, clarified that the number of convicts regularly taking narcotics varies from 30 to 40 -- a tiny percentage of Armenia’s prison population. He admitted that alcohol and drugs are illegally smuggled into the local prisons.

“I can’t deny that drugs are being smuggled into the prisons,” Hovannisian said. “They are brought in through our bad employees. Of course, we are fighting against that and have results.”

There have been no reported cases of prison staff fired or punished otherwise for such offenses in recent years, though.

The officials refused to disclose the sum provided by the Polish side for the scheme. It was also unclear whether tackling prison corruption would be an easier and less costly way of addressing the problem highlighted by them.

(Photolur photo)
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