In the year 1981 CEP was fojurgen-mutzunded in the city of Royaumont in France. At that time 14 countries became members of CEP. Jürgen Mutz, one of the founders of CEP and later President and Secretary General,  looks back at those pioneering days.


  1. What was the reason to start the CEP in the first place? Why was there a need to found a European organization like CEP? What were the intentions?

In the seventies courts, prisons and the probation systems in many European countries had to deal with more and more foreign offenders. There was a need to learn about the systems of the offenders’ home countries, e.g. whether it would be an option to transfer prisoners or probationers. In order to foster the co-operation between European countries the Council of Europe supported seminars that have been organized by various countries about this subject. In one of these seminars, held by the European Academy in Otzenhausen, Germany, in 1979, participants felt clearly the necessity for a permanent international co-operation, not being dependent on meetings by chance anywhere.

It was Nico van Zelst, Executive Director of the Dutch Association for Probation Work Institutions, who took the initiative to ask colleagues from Germany, Switzerland and the United Kingdom to join a probation work conference at European level. After some pre-talks in Bonn and Ulm, Germany, a conference was organized at the Castle of Reisensburg near Ulm in November 1980.

Representatives of governmental and private organizations from14 European countries discussed the foundation of a permanent assembly. And they reached agreement.

In November 1981 at Royaumont, France, 50 delegates from 14 European countries have launched the Coférence Permanente Européenne de la Probation. The main concern according to the constitution was the promotion of international co-operation in the field of probation. Significant tasks were supposed to be: The exchange of information and experience, a documentation of legislation and practice of probation and the organization of workshops and other meetings for practitioners and persons bearing responsibility.


2.What were the main dilemmas or challenges at the start of the foundation? And how did the founders overcome these?

The founders were faced with the difficulty to bring together probation institutions which were structured in completely different ways. In some European countries probation work was in the hands of governmental or semi-governmental services, in others the work was primarily entrusted to private organizations, who partly worked as semi-governmental services. Some private probation work institutions were members of the International Prisoners Aid Association (IPAA), with which one would not like to compete. Some governmental representatives believed that it is enough to bring out their concern in the committees of the European Council. Others had reservations about being at eyelevel position with private organizations with equal rights as regards voting. One delegate from England aimed for an organization as a specific rallying point for European probation officers.

In the end the founders have achieved a breakthrough. I think this based on three points: In the first place they had convincing arguments after hours of discussions. Then they gave the governmental institutions the permission to opt for a special status as associate member. And finally they did not only speak about the advantages of the planned organization. They had already started work immediately and successfully. Before the real founding took place the first seminar was carried out in Brunn am Gebirge, Austria, on the topic: “The foreign offender” with 54 participants from 14 countries. And before the Assembly started in November 1981 the initiators had produced a handbook “Probation in Europe”. In English and French, the criminal justice systems and the probation organizations of 14 European countries have been documented.

A special difficulty was seen in financing the activities of the organisation. The prospected subscriptions of members would not cover a costs of the administration and the wide-spread activities. It was the generosity of the Dutch Vereniging van Reclasseringsinstellingen who took over a large part of the inevitable expenses.


  1. At the start of CEP, what were the long term goals?

 CEP did not set long term goals specifically. However, the founders had special perspectives. They wished that all European probation institutions and organizations would become members. They hoped that the tasks, rights and duties of the probation services in Europe would become similar as far as possible. Their wishful thinking was that all politicians in charge should come to the conclusion that crime reduction can be best realized through reduction of imprisonment in favour of alternatives to incarceration. To promote such a development, CEP intended to form a neutral meeting place for judges, prosecutors, social workers, probation officers, scientists and probation leaders, governmental persons in charge and volunteers, who impartially and irrespective of their professional position can discuss with each other. The variety of aspects coming up should bring out expertise and make it possible to find good solutions.


  1. How did the founders involve organizations throughout Europe? Was there a tendency of, for example, more or less involvement in certain European regions?

 The territorial starting point was the Council of Europe. I quote a sentence from a letter of Nico van Zelst. In January 1980 he wrote to all known national addresses of probation work organizations: “We propose that participation is open to all national probation work institutions working within those countries affiliated to the Council of Europe”.

This intention has become a guiding principle of CEP in winning new members. Eighteen months after the foundation 17 member organizations joined the first General Assembly in Windsor, UK,1983, coming from Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and United Kingdom.

As soon as the political situation in Europe had allowed it, the countries of central and eastern Europe were involved in the co-operation and membership. It started with inviting the national institutions to send observers to CEP conferences and was followed by visits of CEP delegations in several countries on the other side of the former iron curtain.


  1. How did the main role players within Europe respond? For example, national probation services, universities, European bodies. Did they immediately understand the benefits of an organization like CEP?

Right from the start the Council of Europe welcomed and promoted the founding and developing of CEP. In 1985, CEP obtained consultative status with the Council. In this role the CEP worked on Minimum Rules for noncustodial sentences. They became part of the working documents of the Comité de Coopération Pénitentiaire, who prepared the European Rules on Community Sanctions and Measures (Recommendation No. R(92)16. CEP has participated actively in other CoE committees as well.

Very soon the European Commission was interested in CEP’s work, sent delegates to meetings and supported special projects.

The national governmental institutions of probation responded differently. Reservations however could be broken down through the appearance and the operating of the CEP, as mentioned to question 2. National departments of justice, who did not strive for membership, at least have promoted seminars and workshops by giving grants and seconding participants.

Without exception, private organisations of probation have welcomed the new “conference”.

Universities as such were not involved in the first years, some scientists from universities on the other hand played a considerable role in projects of CEP.


  1. Do you have any other nice- or need-to-know anecdotes of the first CEP period?

From the beginning, English, French and German have been the official languages of the CEP. Board meetings had to be managed without interpreters. It was Nico van Zelst who usually translated for his collegues in the board because he was fit in the three languages. Nevertheless, it was a challenge to his concentration. And it happened after some hours that he came in a muddle. We enjoyed these minutes very much when he started to use the English language to translate English contributions and switched to French in order to translate French sentences. These aberrations were welcome varieties to our otherwise serious discussions.

A special experience were the unofficial evenings following the daily work in the seminars and other meetings. These evenings often were marked by familiarity and closeness to those present. And often people started to sing. Folk songs from all European regions, pop songs, tunes from operettas and musicals were performed. I remember the beautiful and expressive voices of Lisbeth Bang, Denmark, Breidge Gadd, Northern Ireland, and Martine Dikmans, The Netherlands. Joining in the chorus however, many participants failed at the lyrics. Then Lisbeth Bang had the idea to gather texts and music of 57 well-known songs and to put them together in a European Songbook. Thanks to this book we really could have won any song contest.

The book is still on my bookshelf. For me it symbolizes that probation in Europe is in the hands of cheerful persons who work hard, think positively and show solidarity

  1. What is your personal view on the current state of probation in Europe?

I really welcome the development of probation in the course of the past decades. Probation has expended and has met the requirements of the constant social change in Europe. Others than imprisonment, alternative ways in dealing with delinquent behaviour cover a wide field of activities. Community service, pre-trial reports, electronic monitoring, victim-offender-reconciliation, mediation, restorative justice are some keywords in this respect. They stand for the opening of the criminal justice system in favour of a strong influence of social policy.

It is most important, to remain true to CEP’s principles, even if the public or published opinion and some vociferous politicians again and again demand more severe punishment and imprisonment.


„Jan Schepel, NL, and John Scott, UK, have given a review of CEP’s history in the CEP Bulletin Nr. 1 and Nr. 37. With their assumed consent  I have taken a few clauses and expressions from their remarks because in spite of thorough efforts I could not find a better or more appropriate wording.“

Jürgen Mutz was member of the preparatory group in Ulm and at Reisensburg and he was one of the group who worked on the statutes of the CEP. He was President for six years (1986-1992) and Secretary General for four years (1997-2001).

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