What to do about the social rehabilitation of nationals in foreign prisons? How to deal with foreigners in your own prison system? These and other fundamental questions brought the attendees to the Prisoners Abroad Conference in Utrecht, The Netherlands, on March 10, 2011. The day became a platform for the presentation of a business case that states the importance of effective measures to combat recidivism among this group of prisoners.

Special Interest Group
The conference was the result of the CEP Special Interest Group (SIG) that focuses on nationals in foreign prisons. Rolf Streng, head of the foreign office of the Dutch Probation Agency, and John Walters, member of the board of Prisoners Abroad (and former CEP Secretary General), co-authored the above mentioned business case. With the business case, the SIG has set out its strategy to promote better care for the special group of prisoners.

Femke HofsteeMore research
The conference established several issues where they see room for improvement, one of them the need for further research. At the conference, researcher Femke Hofstee-van der Meulen indicated in her presentation the needs of Dutch nationals in foreign detention in their preparation for release and upon return in the Netherlands. The main message of her presentation was that people in foreign prisons have special needs, incomparable to a regular detainees. “I have sent questionnaires to all 2,600 Dutch nationals in foreign detention and received a reply from 584 prisoners in 54 countries (93% of all Dutch nationals are detained in these 54 countries) and I carried out in-depth interviews in prisons around the world. I asked them about the kind of care they received from consular staff from the Dutch diplomatic post, visiting volunteers of the Dutch Probation Service and volunteers of the religious organisation Epafras. And what kind of effect this care had on their situation in detention and on their preparations for release” says Femke Hofstee. “I have seen how complicated the issues they face are and how important it is to invest also in the particular group once they return to the Netherlands. For this reason it is vital that awareness is raised about their special needs during detention but also upon release in order to facilitate a successful return into society. ”

Spread awareness
One of the three afternoon discussion groups focused on research questions because research on broad trends or effectiveness of services can help to spread the message. “It was great to join the sub-group discussion on new research ideas at the conference and I saw some new ideas and viewpoints emerge,” says Femke Hofstee.

Create just policies
Parallel to the SIG business case, the Penological Council of the Council of Europe (PCCP) is currently preparing a Recommendation on Foreign Prisoners, which will set a minimum standard for the treatment of foreign national prisoners. Dirk van Zyl Smit, advisor to the PCCP with regard to this recommendation and professor of Comparative and International Penal Law at the University of Nottingham, presented on the Recommendation on Foreign Prisoners, which in its effect and process is similar to the Recommendation on Probation.

“The SIG business case, the new research and the CoE Recommendation on Foreign Prisoners all point out that there is an urgent need to improve the conditions of foreign national prisoners,” says Rolf Streng at the end of the conference. “In a very near future we will investigate how we can join forces to bring forward the topic of foreign national prisoners within CEP.”

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