Two Swiss drug experts visit Estonia

Article, 28.09.2010

From 13 to 15 September 2010, Swiss drug specialists from the fields of research, medicine, psychiatry and the penal system visited Estonia. The visit was accompanied and coordinated by the Estonian Ministry of Finance, the Swiss Enlargement Contribution Office in Riga, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Federal Office of Health (FOH).

Specialist conference on drug policy  in Tallinn
On day two a specialist conference on drug policy was held in Tallinn. DEZA

The programme involved a visit to Viru prison in Jõhvi and to a drug rehabilitation centre in Sillamäe, a specialist conference in Tallinn and talks with the Estonian Ministry of Justice. The background to this mission is a drug project to be implemented in the framework of a Swiss-Estonian cooperation programme. The aim is to give drug addicts serving prison sentences the chance to take drug therapy lasting several months instead of going to prison. The project is currently in the first phase of approval. The worst drug problems in the country are in the Tallinn conurbation (Harju) and in north east Estonia (Ida-Viru). 

On the first day the group of experts visited Viru prison in Jõhvi in the north-east of Estonia. This prison was opened in 2008 and houses almost 1000 prisoners. It is one of five prisons in Estonia at the moment. The long-term plan is to run only large-scale prisons, specifically the existing prisons in Viru and Tartu and the prison in Tallinn, which is in the planning stage. The Viru prison contains two special sections for drug offenders – one for adolescents and one for adults – with special treatment for prisoners' addictions. The problem of drug addiction in Viru prison is glaringly obvious. About a quarter of prisoners are addicted and about 75% of prisoners have tried drugs at some point in their careers. In Viru prison, the group of experts concentrated on the two sections for drug addicts and obtained an impression of the daily routine and the situation of the prisoners. After this the group visited a drug rehabilitation centre in Sillamäe in north east Estonia, where it asked about the therapy and rehabilitation measures in place and spoke to the employees of the centre about their work.

On day two a specialist conference on drug policy was held in Tallinn. Specialists from all over Estonia attended the event, including representatives of the Social Affairs Ministry and Justice Ministry, the state prosecutor's office, prison administrations, non-governmental organisations, therapy and probation centres, the Estonian Association of Psychiatrists and the Estonian Association of Judges. Estonian representatives explained the legal situation in the country and the current state of drug therapy and rehabilitation both inside and outside the prison system. The Swiss experts gave an overview of Swiss drug policy, which since the early 1990s has been based on the four pillars of prevention, therapy, damage limitation and repression. They also described the situation in Swiss prisons from a variety of perspectives. The various talks were all followed by lively discussion among all the participants.

On the third day a smaller group discussed the lessons learnt and the planned project in the framework of the Swiss enlargement contribution with representatives of the Estonian Ministry of Justice. According to current planning it is probable that the implementation of the project can begin in the first half of next year.