“German-French cooperation in the supervision of suspended sentences” was the subject of a two-day seminar held on the 26th and 27th of June in the Euro-Institut in Kehl, Germany, and dedicated to the EU Framework Decision on the recognition and supervision of suspended sentences, alternative sanctions and conditional sentences, which is to become effective soon. The seminar not only served as a platform for professionals working in the German-French border region to share experiences and issues of concern, but also provided an opportunity to discuss valuable suggestions with respect to the transposition of the Framework Decision into national law. The participants viewed the seminar as a kick-off to the further development of probation and after-care in a European context.
The Euro-Institut Kehl, an agency and platform for cross-border cooperation between administrations across Europe, especially in Germany and France, regularly organizes seminars and advanced training courses. In collaboration with the DBH (the German Association for Social Work, Criminal Law and Crime Policy), the Strasburg-based Accord 67, and representatives from the French and German probation services and criminal justice departments, a program had been developed that was not only to facilitate the exchange of practices and ideas between professionals in the border region, but primarily aimed at drawing up recommendations for the transposition of the Framework Decision into national law. Therefore, the group of 30 participants included criminal law and social work professionals, as well as representatives from ministries and criminal justice authorities. Both the French Ministry of Justice and the German Federal Ministry of Justice had agreed to participate in the seminar. On the German side, financial support was received from the Bezirksverein für Soziale Rechtspflege Kehl and from the organization Courage – Sicherheit Fördern, also from Kehl; on the French side, the seminar was supported by the Direction Interrégionale des services pénitentiaires de Strasbourg.
Jan MacLean, member of the Permanent Representation of the Federal Republic of Germany in Brussels, informed the participants about the EU Framework Decision and the further plans. Dr. Pamela Knauss, responsible for European and multilateral cooperation in the field of criminal law at the German Federal Ministry of Justice, was available for consultation during the entire seminar. Judges and probation officers from Germany and France reported on the legal basis and the practical aspects of their work. For a small town like Kehl, being close to Strasburg has many advantages: shops and restaurants benefit from the town’s vicinity to a large city just across the border. However, as many customers come from neighbouring France, French nationals are also responsible for a considerable number of shoplifting incidents. This has implications for the criminal justice system and calls for cross-border cooperation.
A comparison of the legal frameworks and an overview of the German and French specifics in the field of probation and after-care revealed many similarities, but also uncovered a number of differences. The same can be said about the organization and the structure of the probation systems in both countries. The speakers clearly explained the respective approaches and paid special attention to the interaction between judge and probation officer (for instance, when revising probation-related decisions). By pinpointing problem areas in every-day practice, particularly in border regions, the importance of better cooperation was underlined. In the supervision of suspended sentences, but also in the preparation of release, many obstacles and disadvantages have to be overcome when a convicted person moves to, or comes from, a neighbouring country.
In the workgroups, the participants agreed that, in border regions like Strasburg/Kehl, it does not make sense to automatically hand over the supervision of a suspended sentence to the neighbouring country when the convicted person moves there. The more mobile border-region residents get and the less the border plays a part in their lives, the less likely it becomes that qualified supervision can be offered from one side only-persons under supervision will increasingly have problems that relate to the legal systems of both countries (for instance: legal costs in Germany, a maintenance obligation in France). One of the ideas the participants subsequently discussed, was setting up a joint probation office for the border region, staffed with French and German probation officers. Through such an office, many practical issues could be tackled quickly and efficiently; whenever appropriate, continuous after-care could be provided, independent of the question of which country officially supervises the probation.
With respect to the transposition of the Framework Decision into national law, the participants stressed that some improvements are needed, as the set-up of the cooperation will have to be clear even before making a release decision. The question how courts will be able to obtain the information needed for the release decision (including, for instance, reports from social service workers describing the personal circumstances of the convicted person) was deemed particularly urgent.
Despite the intense discussions on separate aspects of the Framework Decision, all participants recognized the importance of this decision and its great significance for the practice of cross-border probation supervision. Many additional ideas and suggestions regarding the further development were generated. The participants expressed the wish that their experiences and recommendations would be taken into account in the process of implementing the Framework Decision into national law. There was also a general call for further meetings to elaborate on individual aspects. Finally, some broader perspectives, going beyond national boundaries, were touched upon, for instance the development of joint public relation activities in the field of probation.
This seminar was only the beginning. The participants are hoping for a follow-up meeting next year, as well as for their governments to give them the opportunity to explore new ways of cooperation, not restricted by national borders.
DBH, German Association for Social Work, Criminal Law and Crime Policy