A summary of the article written by Marcelo F Aebi, Natalia Delgrande and Yann Marguet from the University of Lausanne, published in 2015 in “Punishment & Society”, is presented below.
Community Sanctions and Measures (CSM) were created to reduce the prison population and to improve offenders reintegration. Having analyzed data from 29 European countries the authors of the article want to determine whether CSMs are used as an alternative to prison or as supplementary measures.
The authors state that during the last 20 years with the implementation of CSMs the number of prisoners has, in fact, increased and as a result there are more people subject to correctional control or drawn into the criminal justice system. Many researchers have described this phenomenon as the “net widening effect”. The authors of the article use the conceptualization provided by John Muncie who defines it as: “the processes whereby attempts to prevent crime and develop community-based corrections act to expand the criminal justice system and draw more subjects into its remit” (Muncie, 2001:262).
The study has real relevance for CEP members because it covers 29 European countries, specifically: 9 from Central Europe, 4 from Eastern Europe, 12 from North Western Europe and 4 from Southern Europe. The authors analyse the prison and probation population from a longitudinal perspective over the course of 20 years (from 1990/91 to 2010). A comparative crosssectional approach compares the same data but only for the year 2010 within each country and between countries. Trends in crime are also taken into account.
The article uses data from SPACE I and II (Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics and on Persons Serving Non-Custodial Sanctions and Measures) – therefore it has a solid statistical basis. The evolution of CSM and prison population in Europe In Europe, from 1990 to 2010, there has been an increase in the importance of CSMs and probation agencies, thus the CoE produced several recommendations in order to develop a common policy for all member states concerning CSMs. In the same way ata shows that there has been an increase in the number of persons serving CSMs (specially community service or unpaid work) since 1990. The data shows that by 2010, 17 countries of out of the 29 had more probationers than prisoners.
However, in general, most of the European countries included in the study increased their prison populations over the 20 years under study. Trends in crime do not to explain this increase.
Prison and Probation in Europe in 2010
The analysis of data from 2010, between different European countries, highlights two different ways of dealing with offenders. There is a group of ten countries that show the highest probation population and also the highest prison population. The authors state that the criminal policy of these countries seems to prioritize the control and the punishment by keeping offenders inside the Criminal Justice System. These countries are England and Wales, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Poland and the State Administration of Spain. There are other countries that show a low probation and prison population, suggesting that a moderate use of CSMs can help to keep the prison population low. This use of CSMs in such a way reveals a criminal policy that prioritizes the socialization in the community rather than keeping offenders inside the criminal justice system. These countries are Finland, Norway and Switzerland.
The number of persons serving community sanctions and the number of inmates have increased in almost all European countries during the period studied (1990/91 –2010) regardless of the trends in crime. This data shows that, in general, CSMs have been used as a supplementary measure, not as an alternative, and thus effectively contributed to widening the net of the Criminal Justice Systems. The authors add the number of inmates and the number of probationers in each country explaining that it represents the total number of persons that should be in prison if CSM did not exist. The figures are so high in some countries that they conclude that the net-widening effect cannot be denied.
CSMs became part of a punitive approach to Criminal Policy in countries that promote control by keeping people inside the Criminal Justice System (using prison or probation measures) instead of avoiding reoffending by prioritizing socialization or rehabilitation in the community. The data also shows a wide diversity in the use of CSMs across Europe in 2010. It is difficult to say which countries are using CSMs in a reasonable way. The implementation of CSMs in Europe did not result in a visible effect on prison population rates, thus CSMs do not seem to guarantee a reduction in the prison population.