Increasing Punitiveness in Lithuania

Key words: punitiveness, criminal legislation, imprisonment rates, crime dynamics, criminological scapegoat theory

The outcomes of criminal legislation and the indicators of the criminal prosecution show an increasing punitiveness in Lithuania. On the 1st of May 2003 came into force the new Criminal Code, Criminal Procedure Code and Code of Execution of Penalties and allowed to balance the punishment practice, for example – over 5 years to reduce the number of prisoners (250 prisoners per 100 000 of population), although it was still several times higher than European average. However, in the period of so-called financial (economic) crisis, the situation has changed radically. The terms of imprisonment began to rise and restrictive practice of conditional release returned the number of prisoners in Lithuania (327 of the end of 2012) in the time of 2001–2002. 

Lithuania has overtaken Georgia, Latvia, Ukraine and has established in the 3rd place among all European countries after Russia and Belarus. During this period, the number of crimes in Lithuania remained unchanged, while the most serious crimes (homicide, serious bodily injury, rape, robbery) has declined continuously. The intensified criminal prosecution for domestic violence has increased the total number of convicted persons of about 20 percent, but it wasn’t an essential reason for growing of prison population.

The question-title of this article is more rhetorical and express more authors nuisance as offer the answer or the answers of this question-title. However, according to the author and other European criminologists studies and insights, the culture of punishment primarily depend from the social, cultural, political and economical contexts of the country with a long historical trail, as well from the actual economical situation.

Increasing criminal punitiveness in the times of financial (economical) crisis convincingly explains the scapegoat theory, in which the main description of the attachment of blame by “strangers” is concerned with a lack of confidence among people and institutions in the society. 

Figure 1. Imprisoned persons in Lithuania 1991-2014
(The data presented concern one-day snapshots at the end of every year)

Attempts to solve the problems of criminal behaviour with the increment of criminal repression (punitiveness) shows the persistence of the old totalitarian tradition, which are shaping the culture of punishment in Lithuania. Since 2011 has been adopted 19 amendments to the Criminal Code and the majority of these changes were related with the tightening of criminal responsibility. The part of these changes have been associated with the EU law enforcement, but in most cases this has been done straightforwardly, without wider debate and without taking into account the peculiarities of the national criminal justice. In addition, the most of this changes were not related to the implementation of EU legislation. The presentation concludes that is necessary to changes the culture of punishment in Lithuania, but in order to do this, it must be shown to illustrate the indicators of punitiveness and to reflect the situation, to see fundamental differences with other EU countries and the possible alternatives.

Figure 2. Average length of sentences imposed by courts (concerned actual prisoners) and sentences actually served in Lithuania 1998-2014 (at the end of year)
Figure 3. The trends of crime rate and prison population rate (at the end of year) in Lithuania 2004-2014 


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Dr. Gintautas Sakalauskas

Vilnius University, Law Faculty, Department for Criminal Justice

Law Institute of Lithuania, Department for Criminological Research