Nelli Kalikova

2012 HIV/AIDS JusticeMakers Fellow, Estonia

Introducing alternatives to imprisonment of drug addicts


As a health aid worker in Tallinn, Estonia, Nelli Kalikova has been working with intravenous drug users and other people living with and vulnerable to HIV/AIDS for over 20 years. Trained as a physician, she has worked in rehabilitation and needle-exchange programs, as well as serving in the Estonian Parliament from 2003-2007.

Project: Through her work, she has discovered that justice system officials’ lack of knowledge on the health needs of intravenous drug addicts has contributed to the spread of HIV/AIDS and to the relapse rate of recovering drug addicts. When detainees and recently released detainees are not provided with the resources that they need to recover from their addiction, they relapse into intravenous drug use with shared needles which hastens the spread of HIV/AIDS. Ms. Kalikova will attempt to mitigate this deadly cycle by providing trainings to judges and probation officers on harm reduction, treatment, and rehabilitation options for drug addicts within the criminal justice system. This will allow intravenous drug users living with HIV/AIDS to return to sober life and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS through intravenous drug use.

Results: The Project has successfully improved the lives of drug addicts on many levels. After the requests of Ms Kalikova, judges were convinced to decide in favour of a rehabilitation program instead of prison sentences. In this way, drug addicts were able to receive the medical treatment  necessary to recover from their addiction. For instance, an 18 years old girl who was originally condemned to serve one year in prison for theft was instead sent to a rehabilitation centre.

Another important achievement is represented by the preparation of applications for bail. In fact, in only one month, 35 requests for bail were approved by the judges. This also increased the awareness of prisoners on their right for bail considering that the majority of them were not aware of their rights.

Training sessions were organized for judges and probation-officers who, after an initial reluctance, started to cooperate with Ms Kalikova.

The Project was supported by “Tervisekeskus Elulootus” medical centre which was responsible for all  of the necessary medical procedures.