Ukrainians look into legal system


Corvallis Gazette-Times (Corvallis, OR)
Posted on March 14, 2005

By Mary Ann Albright
Gazette-Times reporter

Ukrainians look into legal system

ANDY CRIPE/Gazette-Times
Ukranian delegates look around the women's cell block at the Benton County jail during a tour Thursday afternoon. From left are Oleksandr Yermak, Valentyn Paliy, Kateryna Tarasova, Valentyna Antypets and translator Mila Bonnichsen.

Four Ukrainian lawyers got their mug shots taken and fingerprints scanned before entering a cell at the Benton County Correctional Facility. But these delegates didn't do anything wrong. They entered the facility as welcomed guests, not inmates.

Thursday's jailhouse tour provided the Open World Delegation a glimpse of one aspect of the American legal and judicial system.

"Our jails are in worse conditions," said Kateryna Tarasova, 22, who works for a nongovernmental election agency in Chernihiv. "They said they spend about $120 a day to house someone in this facility. In Ukraine we spend maybe $5 a day on a person."

Tarasova visits Corvallis as part of Open World, a U.S. government exchange program that enables emerging Russian and former Soviet leaders to experience democracy and free enterprise in communities across America.

The Open World delegates are here to study the rule of law. Since arriving on March 5, they've attended criminal hearings at the Oregon Supreme Court in Salem and visited Benton County's drug court, as well met with various law enforcement and judicial officials. The group returns to Ukraine on Saturday.

In addition to Tarasova, the delegates are Valentyna Antypets, a 39-year-old judge, Valentyn Paliy, a 33-year-old judge, and Oleksandr Yermak, a 26-year-old parliamentary aide. Also with the group is their facilitator, Karina Makarenko, and a translator, Mila Bonnichsen.

"Running a jail is a lot like running a mini city," explained Lt. Holly Russell, the jail manager, as she walked the delegation past two prisoners in solitary confinement.

Russell explained that the jail provides food, shelter, health and education services for its inmates.

Yermak wanted to know if brawls among inmates or prison rapes pose a big problem in the jail. Russell said not in this particular facility because the officers do a good job of classifying prisoners.

Tarasova and Yermak got their fingerprints taken. The group laughed as Paliy tried to look serious for his prison photograph. But even while having fun, they listened carefully, comparing what they saw in Corvallis to what they know from home.

"This is so amazing for them," Peggy Peirson said. Peirson is the county's emergency services coordinator and helped organized the Open World visit. "Their police would never invite an insider view. When we asked them what the relationship was in Ukraine between communities and the police, they said it's not so friendly."

After leaving the jail, Antypets said through the translator that the American jail is "very different" from comparable facilities in Ukraine.

"Here they don't have bars on windows," she explained. "And the cells in Ukraine hold many people, not just two or one. So the conditions which we have are not as nice."

Antypets added that Ukrainian jails house many criminals involved in human trafficking.

Tarasova, who speaks nearly fluent English, agreed that human trafficking, especially of women and children, plagues her country.

There are many cases in Ukraine of police torturing inmates, she said.

She added that most trials in Ukraine do not have juries, so judges have almost sole ruling and sentencing discretion.

"Right now we have a lot of problems with corruption in the legal system," she said. Tarasova said she hopes Ukraine can implement some of the positive aspects of America's legal system that she's encountered on this trip.


Other Ukrainian groups visiting the area:

The TOUCH Project-Chaslivtsi Orphanage Delegation, Feb. 26-March 12

Cantus Choir Exchange from Uzhgorod, April 4-25

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