Former prisoners between non-category and invisibility: The Romanian experience

AuthorIoan Durnescu,Andrada Istrate
Date01 December 2020
Published date01 December 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Former prisoners
between non-category
and invisibility: The
Romanian experience
Ioan Durnescu and Andrada Istrate
University of Bucharest, Romania
In this study, we examine the re-entry of 58 people during the first year following their
release from prison. Our objective was to gain a more comprehensive perspective on
the experience of release from a Romanian prison. We take into account three
important dimensions that set the tone and tenor of life after prison: (1) the state as a
truant agent in the process of release, (2) family, and (3) employment and other means
of becoming economically active, such as hustling (Thieme, 2018) or foraging (Sugie,
2018). We argue that the existent re-entry legislation (or lack thereof) coupled with the
way policymakers define the notion of personhood for the former inmate embarks
prisoners on a journey widely disconnected from their relevant social contexts. As a
consequence, the challenges associated with re-entry are disregarded, and prisoners,
once released, become invisible or a ‘non-category’. Successful re-entry, we argue, is
a personal accomplishment in the face of adversities, rather than a feasible outcome
afforded by structural conditions.
resettlement, prisoner reintegration, release, re-entry, Romania
Sentencing policies have animated a lot of controversies in Romania over the past
few years. Cases regarding conditions of detention, overcrowding, and the
Corresponding Author:
Ioan Durnescu, University of Bucharest, Social Work, B-dul Schitu Ma
˘gureanu Bucharest 9, Romania.
Probation Journal
2020, Vol. 67(4) 427–446
ªThe Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0264550520962210
The Journal of Community and Criminal Justice
protection of prisoners’ rights together with a nationwide frenzy about public par-
dons that culminated in an unprecedented string of protests in 2017 have called
both experts and lay people to action, talk, and debate. With no rhyme or reason,
the public asked for harsher sentences in substandard prison conditions, seeming to
forget that prisoners, more often than not, will return to the same towns, cities, and
communities as them. While imprisonment continues to be a political football, there
is a conspiracy of silence regarding prisoner re-entry in Romania. Once inmates
step outside of prison gates, they become more or less invisible, barring, of course,
Since Romania has not adopted a fully fledged re-entry legislation and the
landscape of re-entry organizations is rather bleak, the challenges associated with
re-entry are designed to be disregarded. Former prisoners and the state are
engaged, at least metaphorically, in a conversation of the three wise monkeys,
where one does not see, one does not hear, and one does not speak, making
meaningful communication an unlikely scenario. Since the state does not classify
former prisoners as a vulnerable category, their chances of accessing social welfare
or any forms of social assistance are slim to none. The minimal services former
prisoners have access to are provided by a small number of non-governmental
organizations (NGOs), but, most of the time, by prisoners’ families. The family,
through moral pressure and obligations of reciprocity, is an important social insti-
tution that functions in lieu of the state, rather than in tandem. This research revealed
how the family helps the former prisoner navigate the procedures of the state,
provide accommodation and financial support, broker employment opportunities,
and curb drug use and delinquency.
As a tentative coordination of all its inputs, the Government adopted
(Governmental Decision no. 389/2015 on the National Strategy for Prisoner’s
Reintegration) that provides among other things for the establishment of an inter-
ministerial commission and several objectives that would facilitate the prisoner’s
transition from prison to community (e.g. establishing regional halfway houses for
those with no accommodation and quick access to social services etc.). Although
the intentions behind this strategy are very good, the level of practical implemen-
tation leaves much room for improvement. The main reason for the low level of
implementation in our opinion is a structural one: the main institution pushing for this
strategy is the National Administration of Penitentiaries, which has no resources for
the post-release stage. For the other institutions involved in the implementation of this
strategy, former prisoners are not defined as priorities. Moreover, for many of them
ex-prisoners are ‘difficult clients’ and therefore they should be avoided, if possible.
This conclusion was confirmed several times during our fieldwork when ex-prisoners
applied for social service provisions or for work.
In spite of this strategy and other legislation (e.g. Law no. 292/2011), ex-
prisoners are not considered as subjects of the welfare state. In most cases, they
are not considered as ‘deserving’.
Furthermore, based on the new Penal Code that came into force in 2014, those
prisoners conditionally released with more than 2 years unserved
are subject to
automatic probation supervision. However, as probation services are currently
428 Probation Journal 67(4)

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