‘Probation needs to find its own identity’
A recap of the CEP Conference on Community Sanctions in Central and East European countries
From Wednesday 4 until Friday 6 June 51 experts from 16 different countries came together in Chisinau, the capital of the Republic of Moldova, for the first conference on Community Sanctions in Central and East European countries. 9 Individual participants presented the community sanctions system in their region: Croatia, the Czech Republic, Russia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Albania, Romania, Latvia and Moldova. A recap of the conference.
Rob Canton, professor at the De Montfort University in Leicester, UK named the main tasks of the Council of Europe: setting standards in the field of justice ; looking after cooperation between countries ; inspecting and following current activities and creating developments in the process of mutual learning. Very important is to make the difference between “what works?” and “what is justice?”. The ideal situation would be that Community Sanctions and Measures are the first way of punishing and prison would be used only in case these sanctions do not work. The challenge is now to transfer these principles into practice.
Differences between Eastern and Western European countries
Natalia Delgrande, criminologist at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, told the audience about the SPACE statistical research on Prisons and Community Sanctions. SPACE II is the Council of Europe tool for research practices and can therefore very well compare the situations in all EU member states. Natalia began by saying that the average number of prisoners in Europe is 176 per 100.000 inhabitants. Probation and alternative punishments are most of all used for juveniles, foreigners and female offenders, although there are large differences between the various member states, especially between Eastern and Western European countries.
From suspension without supervision to community services
Ioan Durnescu, senior lecturer at the University of Bucharest, Romania and CEP board member, gave an overview of Community sanctions in Europe. Community sanctions have their origin in the practice of “recognition”, as a way to add humanity to justice. The sanctions developed themselves from “suspension without supervision” to “community measures” that became more and more modern. In the course of years many discussions have taken place regarding the fact if community sanctions are cheaper? And do they decrease recidivism? Can they really replace imprisonment? It is therefore very important that Probation finds its own identity in order to detach itself from stigma and prejudices.
Probation service in Croatia: young and inventive
The Probation Service in Croatia (represented by Ms. Jana Spero, head of the probation sector under the Ministry of Justice) is a very young organization that has had many benefits from their cooperation with the UK and Czech Republic. They have made use of the Council of Europe rules as a guide in the building of their system. At the moment the organization has implemented a new law that allows Community Sanctions and Measures to be an alternative to short sentences in prison. A very special and remarkable part of the presentation was about the concrete and active use that the Ministry of Justice has of offenders during the floods in the country: a large group was brought together to help people in their houses and to remove for example dead cattle or other obstacles that blocked the roads.
Czech Republic: victims and offenders under the same roof
The Czech Republic (represented by Ms. Andrea Matousková and Mr. Jan Odvárka) has a unique probation organization since offenders and victims are treated under the same roof. The Probation and Mediation Service in Prague exists since 2001 and states that justice may be understood as restorative.
Russia: a new law for juveniles
Russia (represented by Ms. Natalia Khutorskaya, board member of PRI, Penal Reform International) is still at the very beginning of probation – in fact community sanctions do not exist here yet. Good news is that there is a draft new law for an alternative treatment of juveniles, which may be a start towards further developments.
Slovenia: a strong system of probation activities
The Ministry of Justice of Slovenia (represented by Ms. Slava Novak, Mr. Zoran Skubic and Ms. Renata Derganc Cizelj) does not (yet) have a single organized “umbrella” probation service. However it does have a strong system of probation activities, carried out by public prosecutors, social service centres, mediators and the prison system. Due to historical reasons and good relations with institutions from outside the criminal justice system this has never actually changed. There are 3 types of alternatives to prison: weekend imprisonment, home imprisonment and community service. The challenge for the future is to preserve the best practices, but to develop one central authority in the field of justice.
Lithuania: a huge growth of probation service
Lithuania (represented by Mr. Regimantas Mikaliunas, director of the Siauliai Probation Service under the Ministry of Justice) has experienced a huge growth of its probation service during the last 10 years. This has resulted in a more extensive use of new assessment tools, programmes and restorative justice. Since 1st of July 2012 also Electronic Monitoring exists in the country as a measure for alternative sanctions. Lithuanian projects for the future are aimed at domestic violence and risk assessment tools for juvenile re-offenders.
Albania: young fast learners
The Probation Service of Albania was represented by professor Rob Canton. He had recently been in the country and could therefore perfectly give un update on the actual situation. The probation service of Albania is one of the youngest in Europe: it exists only since 2009. This does not say anything however about their level of activity: they are very fast learners and extremely active in their possibilities for growing. The principal challenge for their future is to determine the exact position of probation within the overall justice system.
Romania: probation at central and local level
Romania was represented by three colleagues from the National Probation Directorate in various locations in the country, Ms. Anca Nicoara, Ms. Camelia Gaina and Ms. Lucia Campan. They told the audience that the first probation office in Romania dates from 1996 and that four years later, in 2000, the system was legally established. At the moment probation exists at a central level (the National Probation Directorate) and at a local level, containing 42 services all over the country. The cooperation with other jurisdictions is very important.
Latvia: best practices meet local needs
The State Probation Service of Latvia (represented by ex director Mr. Aleksandrs Dementjevs, actual director Mr. Mihails Papsujevics and CEP Board member Mr. Imants Jurevicius) has an advanced probation system that is moving forward very fast. An important issue for them is to learn from their best practices by transferring these principles to local needs. Also the Service is quite active in European projects and for the future they have the ambition to take on a leadership role in this, when time is ready.
Moldova: probation as top priority of justice policy
The Central Probation Office of Moldova, host country of the conference, was represented by many colleagues. The presentation of the system was given by Mr. Vladimir Popa, Head of the Service, and by Mr. Sergiu Margarint, Deputy Head. Moldova is in the middle of developments in the field of probation: actually probation is one of the priorities of justice policy in the context of legal reforms. The goals of the Central Probation Office are therefore to reduce overcrowding in prison, to modernize their institute and, last but not least, to gain the confidence of the public.