Project: Punishment vs. Treatment: The Situation of Drug Users in Prison

Fund for Bilateral Relations at National Level under the EEA FM and NFM 2009-2014


Priority 1: Knowledge exchange in combating drugs and organized crime, children and youth at risk

Project name: Punishment vs. Treatment: The Situation of Drug Users in Prison

Beneficiary: Center for the Study of Democracy

Project partner:University of Oslo, Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law

Total project budget: 28 980EUR

Project duration: 1 year (06.07.2015 - 05.07.2016)

Project objective: The objective of the project is to contribute to the improvement of the treatment of drug users in Bulgarian prisons by assessing the existing situation and assisting the transfer of experience and best practices from the Norwegian penitentiary system.


Short project description:

The prison system in Bulgaria reveals serious problems such as overcrowding, poor living conditions, shortage of funds and staff, low quality social and medical services, etc. These problems have a particularly negative impact on vulnerable groups. The share of drug users in Bulgarian prisons is between 10 and 15 per cent and very few of them submit to special treatment. Such treatment is usually the result of isolated initiatives of the prison administration or NGOs.

The lack of consistent policy addressing drug use among prisoners goes together with the shortage of resources. Specialists trained to work with drug users are scarce.

The sentencing of drug users is part of the EU drug control policy. In a series of documents, the EU pays attention to the need of promoting alternatives to custodial sanctions for drug users and implementing special treatment programmes for drug using prisoners.

Norway has a specific experience in handling drug problems in prison. After a series of reforms, a differentiated model was introduced based on the principle that prisons are responsible for punishment and rehabilitation while treatment remains a prerogative of the health system.

In terms of rehabilitation, Norway has introduced contracts with prisoners obliging them to accept certain constraints and controls in exchange for rewards. To ensure continuity between the measures within the prison and afterwards, inmates are encouraged to seek treatment and help after release and have access to services such as provision of housing, financial assistance, work, etc.

The project will contribute to the improvement of the treatment of drug-using inmates by analysing the situation of drug users in Bulgarian and Norwegian prisons, identifying best practices that can potentially be implemented in Bulgaria, and presenting the Norwegian experience before representatives of the relevant stakeholders in Bulgaria.


Expected project results:

The project is expected to raise public awareness on the need of reforms to improve the situation of drug users in prison. Policymakers’ attention will be drawn on Norway’s experience as a possible approach both for solving the overcrowding problems in Bulgarian prisons and for reducing drug-related crime by providing drug users in prison with opportunities for better quality of life.


Contact information:

Dimitar Markov

Project manager

Center for the Study of Democracy

5 Alexander Zhendov Street, Sofia 1113, Bulgaria

Phone: +359 2 971 3000

Fax: +359 2 971 2233