ISET Economist Blog

Crime and Punishment in Georgia
Tuesday, 28 October, 2014

According to CRRC Barometer surveys and other opinion polls, the police has been until quite recently one of the most respected institutions in Georgian society. With 88% of the population holding a favorable view of its performance, police came second after church (93%) in the 2011 survey conducted by the International Republican Institute. In 2013, as little as 9% of Georgian citizens said they do not trust the police (an improvement of 2 percentage points over 2012).

There are, indeed, good reasons for Georgian citizens to be happy with the quality of law enforcement in the country after the criminal mayhem of the 1990s. Since about 2004, personal security and security of one’s property have become a major strength of Tbilisi and Georgia as a whole. Ignoring insane, dzhigit-style driving and the lack of sidewalks (see Florian Biermann’s diatribe “Tbilisi – a city for cars, not people” on the ISET Economist Blog), Tbilisi is safer than most European capitals. It is a city where one can walk around, day and night, without the slightest danger of being harassed or mugged.


An (alleged) uptick in crime and (allegedly) inadequate response by the law enforcement agencies have become hotly debated political issues in late summer 2014. Incidentally or not, the surge in the negative press followed the decision by the State Prosecution Office to go ahead with criminal charges against ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili on July 28, and subsequent convictions of United National Movement (UNM) members who were in charge of the successful police reforms: ex-Minister of the Interior and PM Vano Merabishvili, and former head of the Penitentiary Department at the Ministry of Justice Bacho Akhalaia.

Strongly worded statements by the UNM officials that followed these high profile convictions denounced increased prison violence (Machavariani), claimed that drugs are becoming a part of our everyday life (Bezhashvili) and that the government is manipulating crime statistics “instead of fighting crime” (Bokeria).

Strongly worded rebuttals by PM Gharibashvili and senior Ministry of Interior officials Chikaidze and Izoria essentially suggest that the criminal situation only got better. Official statistics, not trusted by the opposition leaders, seem to support the government’s view. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) data, Georgian police is improving in both preventing and solving crimes:

    • The number of recorded crimes during the first eight months of 2014 is down (year-on-year) by about 17%.
    • The average clearance rate (calculated by dividing the number of crimes that end in charges being laid by the total number of crimes recorded) is up from 56% to 60%.

Now, if statistics are no longer trusted, people have no choice but to trust their own experience and senses. Two of our ISET colleagues have recently become the target of (twice) repeated mugging and burglary. The purely financial damage in all cases was not very significant (10-20 GEL), but the experience was extremely traumatic, leading to far-reaching conclusions about the ‘true’ state of crime in Georgia and the quality of official statistics on this issue.

One factor behind low-quality crime statistics is that people systematically underreport incidences of petty crime (none of the four criminal incidences experienced by ISET staff got reported). Another factor is a lack of motivation on the part of police officials to record petty crimes that have a near-zero probability of being solved and thus make their ‘clearance’ rate look bad. The under-reporting and under-recording phenomena are deeply ingrained in human nature and are not easy to fix.

Another aspect of the crime statistics problem – and one that is potentially easier to fix than any fundamental flaws in human nature – is to make sure that crime statistics are collected according to a transparent methodology and presented to the public in a comprehensible way. Our own attempt, this week, to make sense of Georgian crime statistics has faltered since the current format of reporting crime data by Georgian police is far from satisfactory: data are presented in a rigid PDF format, limiting the possibility for independent analysis and scrutiny across different types of crimes and over time; the current methodology and any changes compared to its previous versions are not explained, providing plenty of water for the political opponents’ mills.


Police reputation and public perceptions of Georgia’s law and order performance are no petty matter. Neither politically (as demonstrated by UNM’s fall from grace as a result of the prison abuse scandal a few weeks before the October 2012 elections), nor economically. Major investment decisions, particularly by foreigners, are affected by considerations of personal security and protection of property rights.


In 2003-2012, Georgia has engaged in a merciless fight against crime resulting in incarceration rates (over)shooting to world-leading levels. With 547 prisoners per 100,000 population, in 2009-2010 Georgia had the fourth-largest prison population in the world. The workings of Georgia’s prosecution and judiciary during this period became a subject of harsh criticism by Georgian and international observers for systematic violations of human rights and failure to observe the sacrosanct presumption of innocence principle.

The massive amnesty implemented in 2013 by the new Georgian Dream coalition has had as its goal to at least halve the prison population and improve imprisonment conditions was those remaining behind bars. Accordingly, the amnesty reduced the number of prisoners from 19,349 in 2012 to 9,093 in 2013. As a result, Georgia dropped from 4th to 159th spot in terms of incarceration rate per 100,000 population.

The amnesty created easily understandable fears, acknowledged by the new PM, Bidzina Ivanishvili, that the release of prisoners would worsen the criminal situation in the country. Indeed, until 2012, criminal activity has been strongly and negatively correlated with prison population size (see chart).

On the one hand, the government tried to preempt these fears through a series of legislative acts banning or restricting certain types of behavior, such as carrying cold weapons (knives), and intensifying police raids and patrolling.

In addition to acquiring a bigger stick, the government also decided to offer ex-convicts a modest carrot in the form of re-socialization and rehabilitation services provided by the Center for Crime Prevention. Initiated and personally supervised by the new Minister of Justice Tea Tsulukiani, the Center’s services purportedly include legal advice, psycho-social and health consultations, professional training, and help with employment.

Unfortunately, little is publicly known about the Center’s success in preventing ex-convicts from re-offending and going back to prison. Publicizing its programs – and reporting on its successes and failures - could go a long way in raising the Center’s effectiveness, on the one hand, and addressing public concerns about personal security, on the other.

While designed to show the government’s resolve in fighting crime, intensified police raids and indiscriminate bodily searches do relatively little in preventing a resurgence in crime, unless guided by precise intelligence. In the absence of such intelligence (?), these measures are a nuisance for innocent citizens, reminding them of Shevardnadze era police harassment.

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The Georgian ex-pat community is being rattled by the case of a Georgian citizen (leading a privately financed philanthropic enterprise) fined for carrying a 5.8cm Swiss army knife, which was attached to his car keyring. Encouraged by his Western colleagues, the citizen in question has decided to take his case to the court. Whatever the outcome of this legal process, there is no doubt in our mind that Georgia’s police and judiciary could make better use of its scarce time and human resources. 

The views and analysis in this article belong solely to the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the international School of Economics at TSU (ISET) or ISET Policty Institute.