Many new faces entered the European probation sector recently. In a series of articles CEP would like to introduce to you the new Director Generals of probation services in Europe. The one that will kick off this series is Johan Bac, Director General of the Dutch Probation Service, Reclassering Nederland. He started his new position on the 1st of June 2018. We spoke to him about his professional background, the first months at the probation service, his plans for the future and of course about European co-operations.
Who is Johan Bac?
I’m 49 years old and have a family with a wife and three kids. My wife works as a student psychologist at the University of Applied Sciences. I also studied psychology for a couple of years, but quitted and continued with law.
That brings me to the next question: what is your professional background?
After my law studies, I did a PhD focusing on juvenile criminology. When I finished, I had to make a decision between continuing in research or not. Research was not something, I wanted during that period of my life. That is why I applied for a study to become a judge and public prosecutor. I chose for the last option, because as a public prosecutor you are more involved in the development of the cases itself. I find it interesting to co-operate with a lot of different organisations and people, like the police but also with victims. As a public prosecutor, you stand with one foot in the society. That is what I found most attractive part of this profession.
In the final two years of the study, you had to gain work experience within the criminal justice sector. A lot of people become lawyer for two years. I already worked quite a lot within the criminal justice sector in the previous years, which allowed me to skip the final two years. I still wanted to gain experience in criminal investigation, because as a public prosecutor you have to co-operate quite a lot with this department. For half a year, I was a part of the Criminal Investigation Department in Utrecht, working on high impact crime cases. I learned a great amount of important things there.
The first job I got as a public prosecutor was in Arnhem. After some time, I specialised in human trafficking- , murder- and abduction cases and worked in Utrecht where I was responsible for high impact crimes in that region. After a couple of years, I got the position of Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions of the region in the middle of the Netherlands. It was not really planned, but a year later the Director of Public Prosecutions left and I filled in his position. I really liked this job, but after a while I wanted to broaden my perspective. I became the Director of the Criminal Justice Sector at the Dutch Ministry of Justice, were I worked on stimulating the co-operation between all the partners, like the probation services, prison, police etc. And since the first of June 2018, I’m the new Director General of the Dutch Probation Service.
You have a lot of experience in various positions within the criminal justice sector. What did you learn in the past, that you will use in your new position at the Dutch Probation Service?
As a public prosecutor, I learned that co-operation with the society is very important. I was one of the first that started talking with victims and relatives in my cases. This is what I will bring with me to the probation service. Our legitimacy lies within the criminal justice sector, but our effectivity lies within the society and in prisons. We need to connect them with each other. That is the reason why we recently started with a project that will focus on this topic. Our main goal is to make the society a safer place, it is important we are visible there.
How did you experience your first months as the Director General of the Dutch Probation Service?
I was pleasantly surprised. Probation services are involved in the process of their clients from the beginning to the end. It starts when they are arrested and it ends after their probation period. We stand with one foot in the society and with the other in the courtroom. I see that all the probation officers work with passion and a lot of dedication. It makes me very proud. I have visited almost all of our eighty locations. We do very important work and I see that the probation officers are very aware of that.
There is one specific day I will always remember from my first months at the probation service. At my very first day, I have been ‘sentenced’ community service all day. As a public prosecutor, I have been responsible for community services for years, but I have never known what it is like to do it myself. It is really impressive. I had to do an intake and there I was in my old jeans hoeing in the park. In the afternoon I also had to work in a factory.
Earlier, you explained that you want to focus on probation and its work in the society and prisons in the future. Are there any other topics you want to focus on in the upcoming years?
Besides focusing on probation in the prison and society, we also need to focus on our teams. I’d like to work on improving safety. We asked all the regions to do a safety scan. In that way we can indicate what the status of the safety of our probation officers is and how we can improve it. The amount of heavy cases grows and they also become more complex. If, for example, you need to apply an electronic ankle bracelet, you are in the home of a client that often does not want you there. We need to ensure safety, not only when ankle bracelets are applied, but at all times.
When we talk about our teams, I think diversity is also something we need to focus on. I don’t like how trendy this word is nowadays, but the meaning is important. The more perspectives there are within a team, the better the team functions.
Are you planning to include co-operation and knowledge sharing with other EU countries in your future plans?
I think this is very important. We already do a lot, like contributing to discussions, workshops and conferences. But it is not a one way road, the traffic comes from two sides. You need to open your eyes for the expertise of other countries. It is important to exchange information. You often see parallel developments in different countries. In some of them probation is still very ‘young’, but you see that those countries can be really innovative. I visited the Council of Europe conference in Estonia, since I became Director General of the Dutch Probation Service. There I noticed how easy it is to exchange information and network with other European probation services.