Post-Socialist transformation, penal reform and justice sector transition in Albania

Blitz, Brad, K. (2008) Post-Socialist transformation, penal reform and justice sector transition in Albania. Journal of South East European and Black Sea Studies, 8(4), pp. 345-364. ISSN (print) 1468-3857


The place of prisons is largely ignored in the literature on political transitions. Yet, given the historic role that prisons served in the former Communist bloc, as instruments of repression, the management of the penal system is an important indicator of democratic change. This article considers the development of the penal system in Albania from 1990 to the present day. It examines the state of pre-trial detention facilities, prisons and prison hospitals, and evaluates efforts by the Albanian government to reform the penal system. The empirical basis of this article is informed by 20 interviews conducted in autumn 2006 with Albanian government officials, members of the prison administration, human rights monitors, international organizations, NGOs, penal experts, and donor governments. It also evaluates attempts by the European Union and Council of Europe to promote penal reform in Albania. The main finding is that in spite of its considerable investment in Albania, the European Union and associated partners have not managed to curb occurrences of torture and have had a limited impact over substantive penal reform. This article examines four explanations for the EU's relative failure in this policy area. The principal reasons for Albania's non-convergence with European norms lie with the weakness of Albanian state structures and the persistence of systemic illiberal practices.

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