Work engagement of prisoners, professional training and parole: Do they work?

Parole as a conditional release from prison is a measure regulated by criminal law where the penological component is particularly emphasised. The comparative overview shows that its importance in contemporary systems is not questioned, while there is a need to determine protective surveillance that should help the released person to easily adapt to life outside prison. The application of parole and surveillance is primarily connected with the success or failure of the application of the treatment during the serving of a prison sentence.

What Works?

Adequate treatment of prisoners that is adjusted to the prisoner’s needs is imperative on the way to reducing recidivism. At the same time, the nature of this treatment is also being challenged and criticised with the help of the argument that “nothing works“ which has been recently supplemented with the question “what works?“. Parole represents a strong motivational factor for the acceptance of the program during the serving of a prison sentence considering that the prisoner is being told that success in the application of the treatment leads to (possible) earlier release from the penal institution, depending on the model of parole.

Conditions for Parole

Even though the Republic of Serbia recognises mandatory as well as facultative parole (with the remark that certain criminal offences do not allow the possibility of the application of parole), the practice shows that all cases can be subsumed under the second category. The Court brings the decision in accordance with the Report on the conduct and behaviour of the prisoner which is being created by the penal institution where the person in question is serving their prison sentence and which is comprised of all the segments that point towards a question of whether it is justifiable to introduce parole.

Professional Training for Prisoners

One of the crucial segments of the treatment is the work engagement of prisoners which has been increasingly supplemented by professional training of prisoners for specific, usually deficit professions on the labour market with the goal to help prisoners gain working habits and skills that could help them find employment and get the adequate post-penal reception after they have been released from the prison. While serving the prison sentence, professional training is the most frequently mentioned basis for the awarding of extended rights and conveniences but also for the assessment of the realisation of the conditions for the application of parole.


In the prison system of the Republic of Serbia, professional training of prisoners was settled down as an unavoidable aspect of prison treatment that, unfortunately, isn’t available to all prisoners because the capacities are very limited and typically financed by international organisations. However, a partially worrying fact is that such projects still have not produced the desired outcomes regarding the reduction of recidivism, considering that research shows that there is no substantial difference in the level of recidivism between prisoners who have successfully accomplished training and those who have not.

Are Support Systems Justified?

It is legitimate to ask the question of whether the work engagement of prisoners and professional training has a purpose or, in other words, if they work. This question can be replied with a positive answer with the remark that neither of the two measures can reduce recidivism just like this is the case with parole. In both cases, an adequate, gradual acceptance of convicts, including preparation for release should begin a period of three to six months before the end of the sentence. Apart from the support of family and friends, the support coming from the system itself is also important, and not simply in the form of one-off financial aid but also in the form of assistance with job seeking that would be the source of the permanent income to the former prisoner. Gradual acceptance is the weakest in our system. Nevertheless, we should have in mind that “nothing works” even in those legal systems which have an adequate support system.

Nikola Vujičić