International Criminology World

World : Europe : Estonia

Estonians are one of the longest settled European peoples, whose forebearers, known as the "comb pottery" people, lived on the southeastern shores of the Baltic Sea over 5,000 years ago. Like other early agricultural societies, Estonians were organized into economically self-sufficient, male-dominated clans with few differences in wealth or social power. By the early Middle Ages most Estonians were small landholders, with farmsteads primarily organized by village. Estonian government remained decentralized, with local political and administrative subdivisions emerging only during the first century A.D. By then, Estonia had a population of over 150,000 people and remained the last corner of medieval Europe to be Christianized.

In 1227 the German crusading order of the Sword Brethren defeated the last Estonian stronghold. The people were Christianized, colonized, and enserfed. Despite attempts to restore independence, Estonia was divided among three domains, and small states were formed. Tallinn joined the Hanseatic League in 1248.

Despite successful Russian raids and invasions in 1481 and 1558, the local German barons continued to rule Estonia and since 1524 preserved Estonian commitment to the Protestant Reformation. Northern Estonia submitted to Swedish control in 1561 during the Livonian Wars, and during 1582-83 southern Estonia (Livonia) became part of Poland's Duchy of Courland. In 1625, mainland Estonia came entirely under Swedish rule. In 1631, the Swedish king Gustav II Adolf granted the peasantry greater autonomy, opened the first known Estonian-language school in Tallinn, and in 1632 established a printing press and university in the city of Tartu. Sweden's defeat by Russia in 1721 resulted in the Uusikaupunki Peace Treaty, and Russian rule was then imposed in what became modern Estonia. Nonetheless, the legal system, Lutheran church, local and town governments, and education remained mostly German until the late 19th century and partially until 1918.

By 1819, the Baltic provinces were the first in the Russian empire in which serfdom was abolished, allowing the peasants to own their own land or move to the cities. These moves created the economic foundation for the Estonian national cultural awakening that had lain dormant for some 600 years of foreign rule. Estonia was caught in a current of national awakening that began sweeping through Europe in the mid-1800s.

A cultural movement sprang forth to adopt the use of Estonian as the language of instruction in schools, all-Estonian song festivals were held regularly after 1869, and a national literature in Estonia developed. Kalevipoeg, Estonia's epic national poem, was published in 1861 in both Estonian and German.

As the 1905 Revolution in Russia swept through Estonia, the Estonians called for freedom of the press and assembly, for universal franchise, and for national autonomy. The uprisings were brutally suppressed and Estonian gains were minimal, but the tense stability that prevailed between 1905 and 1917 allowed Estonians to advance the aspiration of national statehood. With the collapse of the Russian empire in World War I, Russia's Provisional Government granted national autonomy to Estonia. A popularly elected assembly (Maapaev) was formed but was quickly forced underground by opposing extremist political forces. The Committee of Elders of the underground Maapaev announced the Republic of Estonia on February 24, 1918, one day before German troops invaded. After the withdrawal of German troops in November 1918, fighting broke out between Bolshevik and Estonian troops. On February 2, 1920, the Treaty of Tartu was signed by the Republic of Estonia and Soviet Russia. The terms of the treaty stated that Soviet Russia renounced in perpetuity all rights to the territory of Estonia. Independence lasted 22 years. Estonia underwent a number of economic, social, and political reforms necessary to come to terms with its new status as a sovereign state. Economically and socially, land reform in 1919 was the most important step. Large estate holdings belonging to the Baltic nobility were redistributed among the peasants and especially among volunteers in the War of Independence. Estonia's principal markets became Scandinavia, Great Britain, and western Europe, with some exports to the United States and Soviet Union.

The first constitution of the Republic of Estonia, adopted in 1920, established a parliamentary form of government. The Parliament (Riigikogu) consisted of 100 members elected for 3-year terms. Between 1921 and 1931, Estonia had 11 governments. Konstantin Päts was installed as the first President of the Republic in 1938. The independence period was one of great cultural advancement. Estonian language schools were established, and artistic life of all kinds flourished. One of the more notable cultural acts of the independence period, unique in western Europe at the time of its passage in 1925, was a guarantee of cultural autonomy to minority groups comprising at least 3,000 persons, and to Jews.

Estonia had pursued a policy of neutrality, but the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Nonaggression Pact on August 23, 1939 signaled the end of independence. The agreement provided for the Soviet occupation of Estonia, Latvia, part of Finland, and later, Lithuania, in return for Nazi Germany's assuming control over most of Poland. After extensive diplomatic intrigue, the Estonian Socialist Republic (ESR) was proclaimed on July 21, 1940, one month after Estonia was occupied by Soviet troops. The ESR was formally accepted into the Soviet Union on August 6 and the official name of the country became the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic. Soviet occupation was accompanied by expropriation of property, Sovietization of cultural life, and Stalinist communism permeating political life. On June 14, 1941, mass deportations took place simultaneously in all three Baltic States. Officially nothing was said about the arrests, and no one was prosecuted or sentenced. When Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, most Estonians greeted the Germans with relatively open arms and hoped to restore independence. It soon became clear that sovereignty was out of the question. Estonia became a part of "Ostland." Massive repression continued. About 5,500 Estonians died in concentration camps. In World War II Estonia suffered huge losses. Ports were destroyed, and 45% of industry and 40% of the railways were damaged. Estonia's population decreased by one-fifth (about 200,000 people). Some 10% of the population (over 80,000 people) fled to the West between 1940 and 1944. More than 30,000 soldiers were killed in battles. In 1944 Russian air raids destroyed Narva and one-third of the residential area in Tallinn was destroyed. By late September 1944, Soviet forces expelled the last German troops from Estonia, ushering in a second phase of Soviet rule. That year, Moscow also transferred the Estonian Narva and Petseri border districts, which held a large percentage of ethnic Russians, to Russian control. In 1944, there were massive arrests of people who had actively supported the German occupation or been disloyal to Soviet order.

An anti-Soviet guerrilla movement known as "the Forest Brethren" developed in the countryside, reaching its zenith in 1946-48. In March 1949, 20,722 people (2.5% of population) were deported to Siberia. By the beginning of the 1950s, the occupying regime had suppressed the resistance movement. After the war the Communist Party of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic (ECP) became the preeminent organization in the republic. The ethnic Estonian share in the total ECP membership decreased from 90% in 1941 to 48% in 1952. After Stalin's death, Party membership vastly expanded its social base to include more ethnic Estonians. By the mid-1960s, the percentage of ethnic Estonian membership stabilized near 50%. On the eve of perestroika the ECP claimed about 100,000 members; less than half were ethnic Estonians and comprised less than 2% of the country's population. A positive aspect of the post-Stalin era in Estonia was a reopening in the late 1950s of citizens' contacts with foreign countries. Ties were reactivated with Finland, and in the 1960s, Estonians began watching Finnish television. This electronic "window on the West" afforded Estonians more information on current affairs and more access to Western culture and thought than any other group in the Soviet Union. This heightened media environment was important in preparing Estonians for their vanguard role in extending perestroika during the Gorbachev era.

In the late 1970s, Estonian society grew increasingly concerned about the threat of cultural Russification to the Estonian language and national identity. By 1981, Russian was taught in the first grade of Estonian language schools and was also introduced into the Estonian pre-school teaching. By the beginning of the Gorbachev era, concern over the cultural survival of the Estonian people had reached a critical point. The ECP remained stable in the early perestroika years but waned in the late 1980s. Other political movements, groupings, and parties moved to fill the power vacuum. The first and most important was the Estonian Popular Front, established in April 1988 with its own platform, leadership, and broad constituency. The Greens and the dissident-led Estonian National Independence Party soon followed. By 1989, the political spectrum widened, and new parties were formed and re-formed almost daily. The republic's Supreme Soviet transformed into an authentic regional lawmaking body. This relatively conservative legislature passed an early declaration of sovereignty (November 1988); a law on economic independence (May 1989) confirmed by the U.S.S.R. Supreme Soviet that November; a language law making Estonian the official language (January 1989); and local and republic election laws stipulating residency requirements for voting and candidacy (August, November 1989).

Although not all non-Estonians supported full independence, they were divided in their goals for the republic. In March 1990 some 18% of Russian speakers supported the idea of a fully independent Estonia, up from 7% the previous autumn, and only a small group of Estonians were opposed to full independence in early 1990. Estonia held free elections for the 105-member Supreme Soviet on March 18, 1990. All residents of Estonia were eligible to participate in the elections, including the approximately 50,000 Soviet troops stationed there. The Popular Front coalition, composed of left and centrist parties and led by former Central Planning Committee official Edgar Savisaar, held a parliamentary majority. In May 1990, the name of the Republic of Estonia was restored, public use of the symbols of the ESSR (anthem, flag, and coat of arms) were forbidden, and only laws adopted in Estonia were proclaimed valid. Despite the emergence of the new lawmaking body, an alternative legislature developed in Estonia. In February 1990, a body known as the Congress of Estonia was elected in unofficial and unsanctioned elections. Supporters of the Congress argued that the inter-war republic continued to exist de jure. Since Estonia was forcibly annexed by the U.S.S.R., only citizens of that republic and their descendants could decide Estonia's future. Through a strict, nonconfrontational policy in pursuing independence, Estonia managed to avoid the violence which Latvia and Lithuania incurred in the bloody January 1991 crackdowns and in the border-customs post guard murders that summer. During the August coup in the U.S.S.R., Estonia was able to maintain constant operation and control of its telecommunications facilities, thereby offering the West a clear view into the latest coup developments and serving as a conduit for swift Western support and recognition of Estonia's redeclaration of independence on August 20, 1991. Following Europe's lead, the United States formally reestablished diplomatic relations with Estonia on September 2, and the U.S.S.R. Supreme Soviet offered recognition on September 6. After more than 3 years of negotiations, on August 31, 1994, the armed forces of the Russian Federation withdrew from Estonia. Since regaining independence Estonia has had 10 governments with 6 prime ministers: Edgar Savisaar, Tiit Vähi, Mart Laar, Andres Tarand, Mart Siimann, and Siim Kallas.

On June 28, 1992, Estonian voters approved the constitutional assembly's draft constitution and implementation act, which established a parliamentary government with a president as chief of state and with a government headed by a prime minister. The Riigikogu, a unicameral legislative body, is the highest organ of state authority. It initiates and approves legislation sponsored by the prime minister. The prime minister has full responsibility and control over his cabinet. Parliamentary and presidential elections were held on September 20, 1992. Approximately 68% of the country's 637,000 registered voters cast ballots. An outstanding writer and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lennart Meri, won on the first ballot and became president. He chose 32-year-old historian and Christian Democratic Party founder Mart Laar as prime minister. In February 1992, and with amendments in January 1995, the Riigikogu renewed Estonia's liberal 1938 citizenship law, which also provides equal civil protection to resident aliens.

In 1996, Estonia ratified a border agreement with Latvia and completed work with Russia on a technical border agreement. President Meri was re-elected in free and fair indirect elections in August and September in 1996. During parliamentary elections in 1999, the seats in Riigikogu were divided as follows: the Center Party received 28, the Pro Patria Union 18, the Reform Party 18, the Moderates 17 seats. Pro Patria Union, the Reform Party, and the Moderates formed a government with Mart Laar as prime minister whereas the Center Party with the Coalition Party, People's Union, United People's Party, and Members of Parliament who were not members of factions formed the opposition in the Riigikogu. In Fall 2001 Arnold Rüütel became the President of the Republic of Estonia. In January 2002 Prime Minister Laar stepped down and President Ruutel appointed Siim Kallas the new prime minister. The Reform Party and the Center Party formed a new coalition government in power January 28, 2002.

Today, Estonia is a parliamentary democracy. The Constitution established a 101-member unicameral legislature (State Assembly), a prime minister as Head of Government, and a president as Head of State. The Government respects the constitutional provisions for an independent judiciary in practice.


For centuries until 1920, Estonian agriculture consisted of native peasants working large feudal-type estates held by ethnic German landlords. In the decades prior to independence, centralized Czarist rule had contributed a rather large industrial sector dominated by the world's largest cotton mill, a ruined post-war economy, and an inflated ruble currency. In years 1920 to 1930, Estonia entirely transformed its economy, despite considerable hardship, dislocation, and unemployment. Compensating the German landowners for their holdings, the government confiscated the estates and divided them into small farms which subsequently formed the basis of Estonian prosperity. By 1929, a stable currency, the kroon (or crown), was established. Trade focused on the local market and the West, particularly Germany and the United Kingdom. Only 3% of all commerce was with the U.S.S.R.

The U.S.S.R.'s forcible annexation of Estonia in 1940 and the ensuing Nazi and Soviet destruction during World War II crippled the Estonian economy. Post-war Sovietization of life continued with the integration of Estonia's economy and industry into the U.S.S.R.'s centrally planned structure. More than 56% of Estonian farms were collectivized in the month of April 1949 alone. Moscow expanded on those Estonian industries which had locally available raw materials, such as oil-shale mining and phosphorites. As a laboratory for economic experiments, especially in industrial management techniques, Estonia enjoyed more success and greater prosperity than other regions under Soviet rule. Since reestablishing independence, Estonia has styled itself as the gateway between East and West and aggressively pursued economic reform and integration with the West. Estonia's market reforms put it among the economic leaders in the former COMECON area. A balanced budget, flat-rate income tax, free trade regime, fully convertible currency, competitive commercial banking sector, and hospitable environment for foreign investment are hallmarks of Estonia's free-market-based economy. Estonia also has made excellent progress in regard to structural adjustment. The privatization of state-owned firms is virtually complete, with only the port and the main power plants remaining in government hands. The constitution requires a balanced budget, and the protection afforded by Estonia's intellectual property laws is on a par of that of Europe's. In early 1992 both liquidity problems and structural weakness stemming from the communist era precipitated a banking crisis. As a result, effective bankruptcy legislation was enacted and privately owned, well-managed banks emerged as market leaders. Today, near-ideal conditions for the banking sector exist. Foreigners are not restricted from buying bank shares or acquiring majority holdings.

Estonia still faces challenges. Agricultural privatization has caused severe problems for farmers needing collateral to be eligible for loans. The income differential between Tallinn and the rest of the country is widening. Standards of living have eroded for the large portion of the population on fixed pensions. The formerly industrial northeast section of Estonia is undergoing a severe economic depression as a result of plant closings. During recent years the Estonian economy has continued to grow. Estonian GDP grew by 6.4% in the year 2000 and by 5.4% in 2001. Inflation declined modestly to 5.0% in the year 2000 (the estimate for 2001 is 4.8%). The unemployment rate in 2001 was 12,6%. Estonia joined the World Trade Organization in 1999 and continues its European Union (EU) accession talks. In negotiations with the EU, Estonia has closed 27 out of 31 chapters. It hopes to join the EU during the next round of enlargement tentatively set for 2004.


The crime rate in Estonia is high compared to other industrialized countries. An analysis was done using INTERPOL data for Estonia. For purpose of comparison, data were drawn for the seven offenses used to compute the United States FBI's index of crime. Index offenses include murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. The combined total of these offenses constitutes the Index used for trend calculation purposes. Estonia will be compared with Japan (country with a low crime rate) and USA (country with a high crime rate). According to the INTERPOL data, for murder, the rate in 2000 was 13.73 for Estonia, 1.10 for Japan, and 5.51 for USA. For rape, the rate in 2000 was 5.30 for Estonia, compared with 1.78 for Japan and 32.05 for USA. For robbery, the rate in 2000 was 335.65 for Estonia, 4.08 for Japan, and 144.92 for USA. For aggravated assault, the rate in 2000 was 32.61 for Estonia, 23.78 for Japan, and 323.62 for USA. For burglary, the rate in 2000 was 1699.95 for Estonia, 233.60 for Japan, and 728.42 for USA. The rate of larceny for 2000 was 985.95 for Estonia, 1401.26 for Japan, and 2475.27 for USA. The rate for motor vehicle theft in 2000 was 168.73 for Estonia, compared with 44.28 for Japan and 414.17 for USA. The rate for all index offenses combined was 3241.92 for Estonia, compared with 1709.88 for Japan and 4123.97 for USA.


The number of reported crimes in Estonia rose to 41,254 in 1992, an increase of 250 percent over 1987. The overwhelming majority represented cases of theft (33,128). In Tallinn, where many residents had begun traveling to the West and acquiring Western goods, apartment break-ins accounted for 31 percent of all thefts. Street crime also mounted, especially in the capital. In 1992 the number of murders or attempted murders climbed 75 percent, to 239. In 1993 that total was equaled in only nine months. Meanwhile, only 21 percent of all crimes were being solved as of mid-1993.

Organized crime is a major worry for law enforcement officials. Various groups originating in Russia are believed to be operating in Estonia, conducting illicit trade and exacting protection money from new shops and restaurants. A major black market in copper and other nonferrous metals developed in 1992, when lax export controls and high trading prices encouraged the theft of copper communications wire, monument plaques, and even graveyard crosses. Losses in 1992 were estimated at nearly EKR10 million. The spread of prostitution beyond hotel lobbies into fully operating brothels prompted some officials in 1993 to call for its legalization to gain at least some control over the situation.

Popular frustration at the growth in crime focused in 1993 on the interior minister, Lagle Parek. A prominent dissident during the Soviet era, she had become head of the Estonian National Independence Party, one of the three parties in the governing coalition. She was unable, however, to shake up the ministry that had once kept tabs on her protest activities, and she was forced to resign.

The penal code introduced in 1992 retained the death penalty for terrorism and murder. In 1993 two persons were sentenced to death for aggravated murder. In August 1993, about 4,500 persons were in custody in the country's eleven prisons.

Between 1995 and 2000, according to INTERPOL data, the rate of murder decreased from 20.58 to 13.73 per 100,000, a decrease of 33.3%. The rate for rape decreased from 6.84 to 5.3, a decrease of 22.5%. The rate of robbery increased from 178.13 to 335.65, an increase of 88.4%. The rate for aggravated assault increased from 28.76 to 32.61, an increase of 13.4%. The rate for burglary increased from 1390.00 to 1699.95, an increase of 22.35. The rate of larceny increased from 404.95 to 985.95, an increase of 143.5%. The rate of motor vehicle theft increased from 131.07 to 168.73, and increase of 28.7%. The rate of total index offenses increased from 2160.32 to 3241.92, an increase of 50.1%. This increase is largely in property crimes, with aggravated assault increasing less, with murder and rape actually decreasing.


The legal system of Estonia is based on civil law system, with no judicial review of legislative acts.


The first legal basis for creating the Estonian police were laid already during the crumbling phase of the Soviet regime, when the act regulating police activity was passed September 20, 1990 ("Police Force Act"). The main role of the police was to remain the protection of the state, rather than its citizens, and this was to be done as earlier primarily through repressive measures. It soon became obvious that the aforementioned law was a hindrance to the development of the new police system. This law remained in effect until May 14, 1998, when a new "Police Service Act" was passed. The passing to this Act was a very important step in the development of the Estonian police, since it laid the basis for stabilizing the personnel of the police force. The Act specified how personnel are to be recruited, their working conditions, benefits, ranks, and the regulations concerned with leaving the police force. Foreign experts have all along tried to help develop the Estonian police force. The police have also received essential international economical aid and training assistance.

The Estonian police structure consists of two larger independent branches: The State Police Department and The Security Police Department. The State Police is responsible for public order and internal security, for crime prevention and crime detection, and for caring out pre-trial criminal investigations. The Security Police is responsible for maintaining the state’s constitutional and territorial integrity, for protecting state secrets, for conducting counter-intelligence, for fighting against terrorism and corruption. On a territorial basis, the State Police is divided up into 17 prefectures, whereas the Security Police into four regional sections. The State Police is structurally divided into two main branches: the Central Criminal Police and the Constabulary. In re-independent Estonia, the police officer is under-paid and lacks prestige. Keeping in mind the peculiarities of police work, and the stress and danger involved, then the police officer’s pay, which is below the national average, is too low. Also, before the passing of the "Police Service Act" the police did not have essential official benefits like health and life insurance and a special pension. The police force’s big competitors are private security firms, offering attractive alternatives primarily for lower ranking police officers. During independence, there have been changes in the professional training, and the ethnic and age composition of the police in Estonia. Between 1993 and 1997, 3,975 new police officers were recruited. During this same period 1,386 officers were released from duty. At the beginning of Estonian re-independence, two police basic training centers we recreated, of which one was in a Tallinn suburb in a former "militia" school. The other, a newly created (1990) center for training police officers, was near the resort town Pärnu (Paikuse). A degree can be obtained from the Estonian Public Service Academy’s Police College, which was founded in 1992. The first class graduated in 1996, in three years, 197 police officers have earned their degrees at the Academy. Many of Estonia’s present police officers are former members of the Soviet "militia" or other law enforcement agencies, and therefore received their training during the Soviet era in a manner appropriate to that society.

Police leadership has continued to work to develop, strengthen, and professionalize the police force. The police, who are ethnically mixed, are subordinate to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Corrections personnel are subordinate to the Ministry of Justice. The security service--Security Police--is subordinate to the Interior Ministry but also reports to the Prime Minister. Police and corrections personnel continued to commit human rights abuses. The law prohibits such practices; however, police continued to use excessive force and verbal abuse during the arrest and questioning of suspects. Two police officers were found guilty in October 2001 and two more in December of using excessive force. Their convictions were under appeal at year's end. Unlike in previous years, punishment cells ("karsters") were no longer used. The Constitution prohibits such actions, and the Government generally respects these prohibitions in practice. The law requires a search warrant for the search and seizure of property. During the investigative stage, the prosecutor issues warrants upon a showing of probable cause. Once a case has gone to court, the court issues warrants. The Constitution provides for the privacy of the mail, telegrams, telephones, and other means of communication. Police must obtain a court order to intercept communications. Illegally obtained evidence is not admissible in court.


The Constitution and laws prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, and the Government generally observes these prohibitions. Under the Constitution, warrants issued by a court are required to make arrests. Detainees must be informed promptly of the grounds for the arrest and given immediate access to legal counsel. A person may be held for 48 hours without formally being charged; further detention requires a court order. Police rarely violated these limits. A person may be held in pretrial detention for 2 months; this term may be extended for a total of 12 months by court order. Lengthy pretrial detention is not a problem: the average time of detention is 31/2 months. By December 1, 1,298 of the 4,759 prisoners were awaiting trial. There is a functioning bail system.


The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government generally respects this provision in practice.

The judiciary operates through a three-tier court system: Rural and city courts; district courts; and the State Court (which functions as a supreme court). The district and State Courts are also courts for "constitutional supervision." At the rural and city levels, court decisions are made by a majority vote with a judge and two lay members sitting in judgment. All judges and lay judges must be citizens. The President nominates and the State Assembly confirms the Chief Justice of the State Court. The Chief Justice nominates State Court judges who are subject to confirmation by the State Assembly. He also nominates the district, city, and rural court judges who then are appointed by the President. Judges are appointed for life.

The Constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforces this right. It also provides that court proceedings shall be public. Closed sessions may be held only for specific reasons, such as the protection of state or business secrets, and in cases concerning minors. The Constitution further provides that defendants may present witnesses and evidence as well as confront and cross-examine prosecution witnesses. Defendants have access to prosecution evidence and enjoy a presumption of innocence. If a person cannot afford counsel, the State will provide one.


The whole penal or correctional system was kept in complete secrecy in the former Soviet Union. It was the hidden part of a system used for maintaining the existing power structure. Although a great number of people were constantly incarcerated, very little was publicly known about how this system operated. In 1991, after Estonian re-independence, the new government accepted the concept of a modern prison system corresponding to relevant international standards one of the first problems facing the Estonian Republic after re-independence was the maintaining of even elementary order in places of incarceration, after Russia without warning, withdrew the troops guarding the prisons. On 7 May 1992, the Criminal Code of the Estonian Republic was adopted, and it entered into force on 1 June 1992. This new revision of the Soviet Penal Code considerably modified criminal law in comparison with the Criminal Code of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic.

Responsibility for the administration of the Estonian prison system passed from the Ministry of Internal Affairs to the Ministry of Justice in August 1993. The running of penal institutions was at first regulated by the Code of Execution Procedure, enacted in July 1993. The dominating direction in European penal policy is to minimize imprisonment and to increase the non-custodial alternatives. Estonia is trying to adjust the sanctions and their enforcement practice in accordance with accepted European requirements. At the same time, attempts are being made to improve prisons, so that their conditions would be in accordance with European Union regulations.

On December 17, 1997, the Probation Act was passed, going into effect May 1, 1998. With this, an important step was taken towards establishing a Western style correctional system; in which after care is used for bringing people back from prison into society. When this new law concerning the probation service of criminals went into effect, 26 probation officers were assigned to look after ca 5,800 parolees.

Capital punishment was in effect in Estonia till March 18, 1998, when the Estonian Parliament annulled it and replaced by life imprisonment. During independence, 23 people were under sentence of death. No death sentences in Estonia were carried out after August 20, 1991. At end of 1998 there were 9 penal institutions in Estonia. Of these two are pre-trial institutions (one for adults and one for juveniles), three are closed (high-security) prisons for male adults, two are semi-closed prisons for male adults, one is a semi-closed prison for women, and one a prison for juveniles. The two largest institutions are the pre-trial institution for adults with capacity of 1,000 and a closed prison for adult male recidivists with a capacity of 1,200. Three others have capacities of 500, while the capacities of the other four are between 100 and 150. The number of prisoners per 100,000 populations in the year’s 1991- 1998 has increased from 281.4 to 302.5 people.

The Prison Department of the Ministry of Justice manages and supervises prison administration and operations of the institutions involved. The Prison Administration enforces sentences of imprisonment imposed by courts as well as decisions to remand a person for trial or take him or her into custody in connection with a trial.

There are 9 prison institutions in Estonia. Four of the prisons are closed, 3 semi-closed and 2 institutions are for young offenders. At present the prison population in Estonia is 4636. Some 3 % of all prisoners are women.

The conditions in Estonia’s prisons are not praiseworthy. However, all existing penal institutions comply with the requirements generally recognised in regulations concerning European prisons, which allow for confinement in individual prison cells. Due to poor conditions of confinement, and due to deterioration and overload of penal institutions, it is extremely difficult to implement programs designed for effective supervision and eventual reintegration of confined persons into society.

During the last years, the main goal for the Ministry of Justice is building and rebuilding new facilities of detention. In 1996-1997 two new departments for 650 persons were opened in Tallinn Prison and in 1998 a new department for 60 persons was opened in Pärnu. In 1999 a new laundry-house was opened in Rummu, were 60 detained persons found work. In the year 2000 the construction of a new pre-trial institution will start in Tartu.

The year 2000 may be considered the initial year of the Department of Prisons, as it was namely then, when, proceeding from general directions of the administrative reform, and from necessity to make optimal use of the levels of prison administration, the reform of management structure was completed. On January 1, 2000 the Board of Prisons was reorganised into the Department of Prisons and the administration and control of prisons was subordinated directly to the Ministry of Justice.

Already in 1997 it was decided to build a new prison to Tartu. By the year 2000 the work had progressed so far that on November 15, 2000 the construction contract of the Tartu Prison was signed and on December 13, 2001 establishment contract of Tartu Prison was signed. The construction work began in the last but one week of December. As the Rummu Prison was basically situated inside the Murru Prison, the merging of the two had been actual for a number of years already. The fact that two different prison institutions existed may be reasoned by the different regimes of the prisons. With adoption of the Imprisonment Act this obstacle was overcome and the Murru and the Rummu prisons were united on January 1, 2001.

The Imprisonment Act provided two types of prisons in Estonian prison system – closed and open ones. When the Imprisonment Act came into force, there were no open prisons in Estonia. By the end of the year 2000 most of the work for preparing the legal and material base for establishment of the first open prison had been completed and on January, 1 2001 the Minister of Justice signed the resolution of establishment of the Rummu Open Prison.

Presently, prison conditions have remained poor, although there were some improvements. By midyear 2001, the prison population was 4,823 inmates, the highest it had ever been. Overcrowding was reported in every major prison except one. A lack of funds and trained staff continued to be serious problems. The percentage of prisoners suffering from tuberculosis was much higher than in the general population. The Government refurbished some prison buildings during the year. Modest gains were made in hiring new prison staff and retaining existing personnel. Work and study opportunities for prisoners increased slightly since the Government implemented new programs in 2000. During the year, 415 prisoners were released under the Government's early release program. One prisoner was killed by another during the year.

Men and women are housed separately, and conditions are the same for both. Juveniles also are housed in separate penal facilities. Pretrial detainees and convicted prisoners are held in the same prisons, but in different sections.

The Government continued to implement a multiyear plan to refurbish and restructure all of the country's prisons. In February authorities opened a new minimum-security institution in Rummu that can house 40 inmates. Construction of a new prison in Tartu with a capacity of 500 inmates continued.

The Government permits prison visits by independent human rights monitors; however, the last such visit occurred in 1999.


Violence against women, including spousal abuse, reportedly is common and continued to be the subject of increasing discussion and media coverage. Neither domestic violence nor marital rape are criminalized, although they can be prosecuted under existing law. Rape and attempted rape occur relatively infrequently. In the first 11 months of the year, there were reports of 43 rapes and 10 attempted rapes, compared with 54 rapes and 19 attempted rapes for all of 2000. However, studies show that 40 percent of crime goes unreported, including domestic violence. Even when the police are called, the abused spouse often declines to press charges, due to societal pressure. There were reports that women were trafficked for prostitution


There is no societal pattern of child abuse; however, studies, including one published by the local U.N. Development Program office during 2000, found that a significant proportion of children had experienced at least occasional violence at home, in schools, or in youth gangs. In the first 11 months of the year, police registered 26 cases of sexual abuse involving 22 female victims and 4 male victims, all below age 16. In the same period, there were 44 cases of procurement for prostitution of victims younger than 18 years. In 4 rape cases, the victim was younger than age 14.

There were reports that families forced their children into begging.


The law does not prohibit trafficking in persons; however, while there were no official reports during the year that persons were trafficked, to, from, or within the country, it is generally believed that Estonian women were trafficked to Central Europe for prostitution. Destination countries are thought to include Finland, Sweden, Poland, and Germany. Reportedly job advertisements placed from abroad that request women are in some cases associated with international prostitution rings.

Despite the absence of laws specifically criminalizing trafficking, existing laws regarding kidnaping, extortion, and involuntary prostitution are used to address the problem. There were no arrests or prosecutions of traffickers during the year.

In 2000 the Government concluded several interstate cooperation agreements concerning fighting crime including trafficking in persons. It also concluded several bilateral agreements on the extradition of Estonian citizens accused of trafficking in other countries.


Developments during 1998 point to Estonia's increasing involvement in illegal drug trafficking. The arrest of an off-duty Estonian police officer in Helsinki and of two Estonian couriers with several kilograms of cocaine at Tallinn airport, together with other seizures of heroin at the borders and in the country, highlight how narcotics-related problems are increasing in Estonia. The country's growing affluence and economic integration with the world economy are reflected in significant increases of domestic demand for hard drugs. Estonia, which is party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention, and which enacted a strong law on narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances in 1997, likely will face growing difficulties controlling its expanding illegal drug market and trafficking.

Estonia's geographical position serves well as a conduit for smuggling illicit drugs from Central Europe and Russia to Western Europe. Frequent ferries, which yearly carry millions of tourists and both passenger and freight vehicles, link Estonia to Finland and Sweden. The volume of this ferry traffic, disgorging thousands of package-laden tourists at a time, makes it difficult for police to monitor possible trafficking. (As an indication of the scope of this problem, Estonia, with a population of less than 1.5 million, had over 10.5 million people crossing its borders during the first 11 months of 1998, an increase of more than one million over the same period a year ago.) Estonia thus is an attractive transit area for illicit drugs. In addition to ferries, small boats and yachts that ply the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Finland are being used for drug trafficking.

Estonian dealers and traffickers have established direct contacts with Colombian, Venezuelan and other Latin American sources of cocaine. This is evident by the arrest of four couriers and seizure of more than five kilograms of cocaine en route from the Caribbean island of Curacao to Estonia. Heroin and cannabis products from Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Caucasian countries transit Estonia to Scandinavia and Western Europe. Police also report that amphetamines and other stimulants reach Estonia from Latvia, The Netherlands and Poland, and other drugs reach Estonia from Belarus, Ukraine and possibly Russia. Arrests in recent years have involved Estonians charged with organizing illegal drug shipments that never enter Estonia, but are directly shipped to a destination country. According to INTERPOL reporting, "Ecstasy", LSD and PCP are transported through the country to destinations in Finland and Sweden. INTERPOL reports that Moroccan cannabis is imported via Spain and The Netherlands.

During the past year, domestic demand has increased sharply. Police raids have netted substantial amounts of drugs plus large numbers of users and dealers for both stimulants and opiates, including heroin. Law enforcement authorities are blaming the increase in petty crime in Tallinn's center to addicts and drug users. At year's end, the situation had grown so grave that the police have assigned many more foot patrol officers to high-crime areas.

Climatic factors preclude Estonia from becoming a major source for narcotic crops. There are reports however on trafficking in precursor chemicals and also domestic manufacture of precursors for amphetamines, and also amphetamines themselves.

Estonia's law on narcotic and psychotropic substances went into force on November 1, 1997. The law deals with drug abusers' treatment and rehabilitation. It also sets a legal basis for controlling precursor chemicals and their trafficking, which had been largely uncontrolled. The same law also prohibits cultivation of cannabis and opium poppy.

Although the number of narcotics crimes and drug abusers is increasing, by international standards Estonia's current domestic situation is not of a dimension that threatens society. The estimated number of drug abusers is about 10,000, of whom about 7,000 are thought to be taking opiates intravenously. Cocaine use, which was virtually unknown as recently as two years ago, is now seen as growing rapidly.


Internet research assisted by Kontara Simmons

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