CEP is pleased to announce Jana Špero as the new Secretary General. Effective September 1st 2022, Ms. Špero stepped into the shoes of our retiring Secretary General, Willem van der Brugge, and she is the eleventh Secretary General of CEP. (Read the press release)
Can you tell me more about your background?
Well, most of the “probation family members” already know me because when it comes to CEP I am “the usual suspect”: I was a Board Member of CEP 2016-2019 and Vice-President of CEP 2019-2022. For those readers who have not yet got to know me (and I know they soon will), this is a little of my background.
I hold a Master’s Degree in Law and a Master’s Degree – Postgraduation – Specialist in Criminal Investigation. Before I became CEP Secretary General, I was Director General for the Prison and Probation System in the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration of the Republic of Croatia 2017- 2022. Before that, I was the Head of the Probation Service in Croatia, from 2012-2017. I was lucky enough to be among the group of persons involved in the development of the Probation Service in Croatia and I “tried” different probation roles: probation officer working with offenders, manager of the local probation office and head of the probations service for the country.
Before my “probation life”, I worked in the Ministry of Justice in Croatia in the international cooperation department, mostly regarding international criminal law and cooperation with international courts. I was a Co-agent of the Republic of Croatia before the International Court of Justice (Den Haag, Netherlands). My international cooperation background is one of the reasons why I always had a strong desire to work closely with colleagues from different jurisdictions – and my love of international cooperation pushed me to become very active in international probation activities.
As an International Consultant of the Council of Europe, I was involved in different activities regarding the development of probation services and I have been many times engaged as an expert in prison/probation projects in Europe (in Slovenia, Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia…). Also, I was the Project leader of EU Projects and the Norway Grant Project for the Prison/Probation Service in Croatia. I had the honor and privilege to represent the Republic of Croatia in numerous conferences and projects (such as the STREAM Project; ISTEP Focus Group for implementation of the Framework Decision 947; the RAND Project; COST ACTION Offender Supervision in Europe; Directors General of Probation Conferences; World Congresses on Probation: London, Tokyo, Sydney; during the expert meetings in the Council of Europe, etc.).
In the last decade, I was a speaker at numerous Conferences (for example Community sanctions in Central and East European Countries” in Chisinau, Moldova 2014 & Dubrovnik, Croatia 2016; “International Cooperation to support the implementation of Framework Decision 2008/947/JAI concerning the application of the principle of mutual recognition to judgments and probation decisions with a view to the supervision of probation measures and alternative sanctions“, Brasov, Romania, 2013; “Workshop on the execution of criminal sanctions” in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, November 2012; Alternatives to imprisonment, Italy 2016; Strafferettskonfereansen I Agder, Norway 2016; Council of Europe Conference of Directors of Prison and Probation Services (CDPPS), Norway 2017/Estonia 2018/ Cyprus 2019; the 4th World Congress on Probation in Sydney 2019, etc.).
I was the co-organiser and host of International conferences in Croatia regarding probation services (for example the 11th Electronic Monitoring Conference, Zagreb 2018; the International conference “10+ Experiences and New Challenges in Developing the Probation Service, Zagreb 2021).
I am the author of the Article „The Sector for Probation in the Republic of Croatia“ published in the Irish Probation Journal, vol. 12, 2015. It makes me proud that I was an expert – lecturer for the 174th International Senior Seminar in UNAFEI (United Nations Asia and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders), Tokyo, Japan, in 2020 and that I was elected as the representative of Croatia and Europe at the 14th United Nations Crime Congress, Kyoto, Japan, 2021. Taking this step, leaving the Ministry of Justice in Croatia after 17 years to take on the role of the CEP Secretary General, is a new step forward in my professional life and I am so happy and excited!
What is the impact you hope to have on CEP?
CEP and I are the same age – peers! In the first 40 years, CEP grew to be the most important European professional network for probation, well organized and well known. In the first 40 years of my life, I learned a lot about probation and I gathered many different experiences regarding probation, cooperation and management. Considering that CEP is not “new” for me and that I have been a Board Member and Vice-President for the past 6 years, most of the tasks are very well known to me.
My vision for CEP’s work and the future of Community Sanctions and Measures, in general, is to keep and cherish all the good achievements but also to further expand our activities. I hope that my work will contribute to CEP promoting probation not only in Europe but also globally. My goal is to further improve professionalism around all member states by encompassing a large number of probation staff with CEP activities. It will be very important to reach as many probation professionals as possible with the results of our activities but also to share results and new knowledge with other stakeholders. CEP must be the key representative of probation and the leader in providing a pool of experts, so my role will be to connect people and countries to spread best practices and create new probation ideas. I hope that my communication skills in combination with my practical and theoretical knowledge and passion regarding international cooperation will be important assets to the daily work of the CEP.
Are there things you’re hoping to make a difference in this new position, also compared to when you were CEP Vice-President and had a different role?
The role of Secretary General is very different from my previous roles. The Secretary General is the chief executive officer in CEP and unlike the Board Member/Vice-President roles, this is full-time work and full-time devotion to the CEP tasks. The key is to have excellent cooperation with Board Members and to be their voice and the manager of tasks on a daily level. Communication with members will be very different because it will be up to me and the team in the office to promote and make public all information about the tasks and achievements of the CEP.
The most important pillars of my new different role will be focusing on probation in Europe by organising workshops, conferences and other events, using new technologies to promote probation, making alternatives to imprisonment more popular; leading projects and taking part in projects such as CEP and making good connections with partners from the criminal justice field; making CEP the voice of European probation at the world level by cooperating with the UN and working on future World Congresses on Probation. My aims will be to be focused on the promotion of alternatives to custody; highlighting the importance of direct human probation work and partnership with the EU, COE and UN for the benefit of human rights standards.
Try to think big: What is your dream for the future of probation in Europe?
My dream for the future of Probation in Europe is to keep developing and changing in accordance with the changes in the world. Probation must be up-to-date and flexible, that is the only way it can “save the community’’. First of all, it is most important that all European countries have a professional probation service and that the decision-makers understand the benefits of the probation service for society. It is good to have similar probation services across Europe because of the migration of people.
We should never forget always to aspire to the best, even if it means we have to change the ways we have been working long and hard. European probation services are becoming a big Probation family. Sharing, learning from each other, exchanging knowledge and practices, supporting each other and helping each other to be better is what family is about. That is why every probation service is essential no matter if it is old, young, big, or small. We must be together, and we must be similar but we should never just copy and paste because small differences that we have are what make us even more beautiful. A united professional European Probation for the benefit of probation all over the world for the better world we aspire to live in!
Willem van der Brugge
What did you love about working for CEP?
I like to meet professionals. Bringing together people from all over Europe and far beyond and sharing knowledge and experiences about probation practice. Sometimes with a small group of experts, then again in a workshop or conference. I always thought that was very special. Being able to get acquainted with the cultural differences between the many countries that I have visited over the years has been a special experience for me.
What was your biggest challenge?
In 2014, we received no financial support from the EU. That was a difficult period for CEP, which we eventually got through very well. Also, the COVID-19 crisis is still fresh in my memory. Working from home and unable to travel; how could we meet our members? We quickly switched to digital meetings and in this way managed to bring our members together. CEP has come out of that period stronger, but I’m glad that we can meet again in person.
What will you miss?
What will I miss? I think mainly the network of probation organizations, and of course, especially the people in that network! CEP to me is more than an organization dedicated to advocacy and promoting alternatives to detention. Many of us call CEP a family; in any case, a group of like-minded probation professionals from all over Europe who believe in better opportunities for reintegration into society for people who have come into contact with justice. The many member visits I’ve made often felt like coming home; sharing the same values and believing in your work!
I will also miss the contacts and cooperation with the EU and the CoE and other European organizations. By working together you can achieve so much more.
I will certainly miss the close collaboration with the CEP board. I will definitely miss the weekly conversations with CEP President Gerry McNally; sharing content and formulating the policy together. But above all, I will miss my CEP team; hardworking and driven professionals and as everyone will agree: the backbone of our organization.
What advice can you give to your successor?
My successor is an experienced professional who is well-known within the network of CEP. As a former board member, Jana knows CEP from the inside. In the recent past, she has also been directly involved in the organization of various CEP events. I see that as a big advantage for her and CEP. If I can give her one piece of advice, it’s to stay true to herself and give her own interpretation of this challenging position
Any plans for keeping involved in probation and/or criminal justice in the coming years?
I don’t think I could just let go of probation work just like that. I am too involved in CEP, the activities and the network for that. I am looking forward to the 6th World Conference on Probation that will take place in the Netherlands. I hope to be able to contribute to the organization of the conference there.