The relative success of Estonia's criminal justice policy is overshadowed throughout by a high rate of recidivism and a high level of incidence of addiction and other mental conditions in perpetrators, it appears from the cover remarks accompanying the criminal justice policy development plan as prepared by the Ministry of Justice.
Crime numbers have halved in Estonia in the past 15 years, with approximately 27,000 offences registered in the country per annum at present, according to the letter, received by the Baltic News Service. The number of people who report that they 'feel safe' meanwhile has tripled, and only 17% of residents polled report feeling unsafe in the surroundings of their home after dark.
The figures for people falling victim to crime meanwhile tell a similar story, with the number of victims now less than half that reported seven years ago.
The rate of manslaughter and murders also has declined from five manslaughters/murders per 100,000, to three per 100,000. The number of incarcerated has also fallen, by 1.6 times, it is reported.
By comparison, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) murder rate figures, mostly from 2016, are reported (all per 100,000 inhabitants) at 1.42 for Finland, 3.36 for Latvia, 5.25 in Lithuania, 1.2 in the UK and 5.35 in the US. These jurisdictions will naturally have differing definitions of intentional homicide (murder) as well as different standards in recodring crime, for instance at reporting versus conviction stage etc.
Western crime rates falling in general
The cover letter issued by the ministry concedes that the reduction in crime is however not specific to Estonia and that crime rates have been declining elsewhere in the Western world as well, mainly as a result of a reduction in the most common categories of crime, most significantly theft.
A large portion of the document is also dedicated to preventing young people from getting caught in the spiral of crime.
According to the vision set forth by the document, in 2030 Estonia's prison population should consist mainly of those who have committed the most serious crimes and/or are a danger to society, with the figure for manslaughter being the lowest in Europe.
Twelve years from now, it is added, it will be possible to forecast more accurately rates of re-offender rates in Estonia as well as better crime prevention and solving by means of technology. Furthermore, community punishments supported by society as a whole will be in common use, according to the letter.
The objectives of the policy include supporting cessation of crime, increasing the share of community punishments such as home imprisonment and imprisonment in open prison, and making prison and probation a central institution for re-socialisation.
The document on the foundations of criminal justice policy until 2030 is a strategic development document that is required for adoption by the Estonian parliament (Riigikogu). It constitutes a long-term development document setting forth national values, which policy documents at lower levels must build on
Editor: Andrew Whyte