Seizing the opportunities that ‘Brussels’ is offering to probation becomes more and more a second nature of CEP. To give an example: by rescheduling the General Assembly (GA) of 2010 and the subsequent conference from October to May, these events will now take place within the framework of the Spanish presidency of the EU. “That makes it an excellent occasion to draw the attention of various target groups to probation”, says Albert Battle, Secretary of the Penitentiary, Rehabilitation and Juvenile Justice Services of the autonomous government of Catalonia. The message of the events should be clear, according to Mercedes Gallizo, Secretary General of Peninetiary Institutions at the Spanish Home Office. “We should relentlessly communicate the effectiveness of probation. In addition, we should make clear that before alternative sanctions and measures are being incorporated in penal systems, their potential to  successfully change behaviour should have been thoroughly studied.

The GA has been fixed at the 27th of May, immediately followed by the two-day conference ‘Community Sanctions: an effective and proportionate alternative to reduce recidivism’. The hosting city of the events is Malaga. “Malaga is home to one of the largest penitentiary institutes in Spain, which also comprises an advanced Centre for Social Integration”, Mercedes Gallizo explains. “It is one of 21Open Regime Centres that has been developed in Spain during the last couple of  years. These have been built to stimulate that offenders in the last phase of their sentences have a closer contact with the community. In this way the aspect of rehabilitation in prison sanctions is being stressed. Therefore Malaga seemed proper to us to highlight the work of the Spanish Penitentiary Administration, and to promote the development of community sentences. Moreover, the venue is easy to reach by public transports, which is a very important issue as well.”

Great attention thus is paid by the organisation to make the event a  showcase for probation practice and the probation sector at a European scale. “We aim to not only bring together probation professionals from all over Europe, but politicians, policy makers, representatives of the judiciary and other stakeholders in criminal justice field as well”, stresses Albert Battle. “In the past few years alternative sanctions and measures have quickly developed,  as a reaction against the strong growth of the prison population that we see in many countries in Europe. In our conference we focus on topics such as the development of community sanctions, the benefits of victim-offender mediation and the professional advisory services to the judiciary. It is promising to be highly interesting and this is the reason why the Autonomous Government of Catalonia will be represented by the highest representatives of the Department of Justice.”

Mercedes Gallizo totally agrees. “We should use the conference to widen our network both at the level of policy making and ant the level of the execution of sanctions. But let’s not forget about the general public. Public support is indispensable for probation to be effective. Probation services can only work successfully on the rehabilitation of offenders and the reduction of reoffending when we succeed in making the public understand that we cannot count on prison alone to make a society safer. We should convince the public that the highest rate of success lays in a well-combined balance of the punitive meaning of any imposed sentence and to the ultimate aim of ensuring a positive resettlement of the offender in the community. To convey that message we need the general and specialized media, which we will invite to report on the conference.”

Encouraging for the organisers of the conference is that on a European level, the sector of probation seems to have the wind behind. The EU shows more and more interest in probation. The most obvious result of this is undoubtedly the adoption of the Framework Decision on non-custodial sanctions and measures.  But is equally true that EU funding mechanisms such as JPEN, ISEC, DAPHNE and Agis, increasingly contribute to the development of alternative sanctions and restorative justice practices. If you should hoist your sail when the wind is fair, what could the EU do more for the development of probation, according to Albert Battle and Mercedes Gallizo?

Albert Battle thinks that for both the sector of probation and the EU, the Framework Decision is a huge challenge to show they are taking the development of probation in Europe seriously. “With the Framework Decision on alternative sanctions and measures the EU has created a Euro-wide stage for the sector of probation to show the effectiveness of probation. Therefore, the probation sector should have taken all necessary steps to implement the Framework Decision in time. However, for a successful implementation it is essential that we can analyse the different probation systems in Europe thoroughly, and assess the implementation after 2011, so that we can make adjustments wherever necessary. Therefore, I hope that the EU will include the implementation of the Framework Decision for probation as a priority in its funding programmes.”

According to Mercedes Gallizo, the development of a European Area Justice is another major challenge for the sector. “Later this year, the EU will adopt  its new policy guidelines for the field of Justice, Security and Freedom for the period 2010-2014, also known as the Stockholm programme. There is no doubt that it will re-affirm the priority it attaches to the development of an European Area of Justice, Freedom and Security. In this framework I think it is of key importance that EU continues to push for a European standardization of the different penal codes and procedures for the execution of sentences. Parallel to this process I think that the establishment of common definitions in probation is very much needed. Only then we can change the present situation in which certain probation terms have a different meaning in different jurisdictions. Fortunately the Council of Europe is working on the Rules of Probation, which define a standard for the role and place of probation services in the criminal justice system. These Rules include a glossary at the end of the document. This glossary has been designed to  cover the need to share definitions on key concepts concerning probation. Hopefully, these rules will be approved when the GA will take place.”

With these big expectations, Albert Battle and Mercedes Gallizo can’t wait for the GA and conference to take place. Mercedes Gallizo: “With regard to the GA, I am looking forward to hear what CEP has accomplished of the goals that have been set at the previous GA in Tallinn. In the same way, it will be interesting to know which actions CEP has taken towards the European institutions in the light of the empowerment of Probation in Europe. Moreover, I am looking forward to reflect with my colleagues from other probation services in Europe to the challenges that we will face in the future and which steps we can take to deal with them.” Albert Battle: “For the conference I hope that we manage to present a programme in which a balance is found between the changing criminal justice context in Europe in which probation operates, what the best practices are, and how political and public support for probation can  be increased .”

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