The World Congress on Probation held in London in October 2013 was a landmark – the first global event focussed purely on probation. Delegates from more than 50 countries addressed with evident enthusiasm two underpinning aims set out by Marc Ceron, CEP President – to make visible the diversity among different systems, cultures and backgrounds across the world, and to contribute to continuity and a sustainable global forum for the exchange of probation knowledge and expertise.

The event was also timely. As the President went on to say in his welcome, a huge interest in creating new probation services around the world, and the challenges we face, means it is vital to improve networks and to learn from each other.

The author previously noted (in “Probation: A Global Conversation”) that two particularly powerful themes emerged and caught the imagination of delegates: “effectiveness (especially “desistance”) and “communities”. Participants from Europe and North America spoke of being struck by the emphasis on community in many of the contributions from other regions of the world. A stronger thirst for international insight in the probation field may be one legacy of the Congress. And how best to support integration and desistance, including through the relational skills of probation staff and involving communities, taking account of a range of contextual factors including culture (ideally informed by practitioner, community and user views), appears to be a widely experienced and important challenge.

The second World Congress in Los Angeles in 2015 built fruitfully on the first. Themes included advancing evidence-based practices, administrative and policy innovations, and approaches to juvenile and family work incorporating holistic and strength-based approaches. Professor Fergus McNeill, in the closing plenary, referred to supervisee experiences of “mass supervision”, concluding with a brief summary of the desistance model and a pointer to implications including a greater focus on communities.

As a report in the September 2015 CEP Newsletter noted, the second Congress concluded with a warm and impressive welcome from the Ministry of Justice of Japan to attend the third World Congress in Tokyo in 2017. The report added that the World Congress on Probation is now firmly established as important platform and key meeting place for leaders, managers, policy makers, practitioners and researchers in the continued development, improvement and sharing of knowledge in community sanctions worldwide.

Communication at the global level is a truly energising development. But it is of course only one aspect – a “tip of an iceberg” – of a developing picture of connection and exchange. The strong regional partnerships and networks that played central roles in hosting the first and second Congresses also contribute to regular regional exchange and learning. We are familiar in Europe with the work and impact of the CEP. At the same time the American Probation and Parole Association (APPA) and the International Community Corrections Association (ICCA), hosts of the second Congress, support learning and exchange across the United States, Canada and other countries. Indeed, delegates to the second Congress were wholeheartedly welcomed to the immediately preceding APPA Training Institute which delivered an impressive range of regionally-informed sessions including on evidence-based practice, reducing “mass-incarceration”, and strength and family based interventions.

The author was therefore both fortunate and extremely honoured to receive invitations to two “regional” events this year, both of which included a focus on development of particular aspects of probation service work and on the creation of new regional probation networks, and to attend both in the capacity of Ambassador to the CEP.

The first event took place in February 2016 and was hosted by the Department of Probation of the Thailand Ministry of Justice, The Thailand Institute of Justice (TIJ) and the Tokyo based United Nations Asia and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (UNAFEI). This seminar forms part of an on-going series of events strongly supported by these organisations in order to promote community-based treatment in the ASEAN region. Objectives include knowledge sharing, capacity-building, and developing international cooperation, objectives which it is proposed will be supported by the establishment of a regional Probation Association, together with the development of a Training Institute and regional probation standards or principles.

The technical theme of this seminar addressed Community Based work with Drug Misusers (a number of seminars address other issues identified by the member countries). Drug misuse is a significant concern within the ASEAN region, just as in Europe. It is also a major factor in the large number of people held in custody in the region. The conference heard from each of the ASEAN member countries, including approaches to involving communities. In Thailand, for example, persons re-entering the community may be linked for a significant period of time with a community volunteer. In Japan, the number of Volunteer Probation Officers is similar to persons supervised in the community. And in Singapore (where the Yellow Ribbon Campaign, although not presented directly at this seminar, provides a striking example of a country-wide approach to engaging communities in the support of reintegration), work with young drug misusing offenders may include the Good Lives Model. External contributions, including from the author, addressed Asian and European policy and practice experiences including diversionary approaches such as dissuasion commissions, non-custodial sentencing options, and approaches to community treatment. Custodial approaches to support reintegration were also discussed including the regime principle of “normalisation”, the delivery of drug free environments, and the distinct approaches of therapeutic communities. Themes common to most countries, and indeed regions, included the development of clear justice and health responsibilities, community participation, and the significance of political and public attitudes in reducing the mass use of prison.

The second event, the final conference of the Excellence in Training on Rehabilitation in Africa (ExTRA) project, led by Penal Reform International, took place in June in the Ugandan capital Kampala. The ExTRA project has tested ways to increase the effectiveness of Community Service Orders as an alternative to imprisonment in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, countries where (as the project will report) the prison systems are characterised by severe overcrowding. Objectives were to increase the number of orders made by courts, raise levels of compliance with the orders carried out to completion by offenders, and improve public understanding of and confidence in community service orders. Open days and direct interventions with stakeholders facilitated public engagement and positive attitude change. An explicit purpose of disrupting the poverty-prison cycle and a holistic approach, including opportunities to improve livelihoods through “empowerment” projects, are especially noteworthy and the project as a whole has placed great emphasis on learning, in terms of what works and justice project implementation regionally. The soon to be published final report is keenly awaited!

The June event concluded with a session on developing a probation network centred in the East Africa region – The African Probation and Community Service Network. The network is already attracting interest from countries beyond the immediate region.

That both events concluded with sessions designed to strengthen regional cooperation through the creation of probation networks is of course very much welcomed by the CEP. The CEP is able to contribute from its many years of experience and has willingly offered to share its experience of formalising international membership, and of facilitating knowledge exchange and development through methods such as its website, newsletter, projects, events, and work to raise the profile of probation.

It goes without saying that the CEP looks forward keenly to learning from and with new networks, and eagerly anticipates the Third World Congress in Japan!

For more information on the 3rd World Congress on Probation in Japan, please visit the website.

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