Interview with new CEP member: Switzerland

In recent weeks, CEP has interviewed representatives of the new member organisations that joined CEP at the beginning of 2023. In these interviews, the new member organisations will share information on why they decided to become members, how they would like to contribute to the development of CEP, and many more. Enjoy reading!

Switzerland was represented at the Founding Conference of the Confederation of European Probation (CEP) at Royaumont in November 1981 and until recently participated in the CEP’s activities as an Associate Member. As of this year, Switzerland is now a full member, which makes them very happy to be. Due to its federal structure, Switzerland will in the future be represented by the Swiss Conference of Heads of Probation Services (SKLB/CSDP) and the Swiss Centre of Expertise in Prison and Probation (SCEPP).

In Switzerland, each of the twenty-six cantons is responsible for probation and supervision. The SKLB is composed of the heads of the probation services of all cantons, and its purpose is to promote the development of strategies and perspectives for the future direction of probation services in Switzerland. It also seeks to facilitate dialogue amongst professionals to safeguard and promote common interests, including through networking events between the cantons. The SCEPP is a private entity funded by the cantons and the Confederation. It supports the political bodies at all levels in the strategic planning and development of the correctional system and is an important interface between decision-makers and experts. Its CEP membership is also funded through the SCEPP.

Why did your organisation decide to join the CEP?

For Swiss probation, active membership in the CEP is essential for several reasons: it is a more effective means of making our concerns on current issues known at the European level while at the same time benefitting from other countries’ information and expertise. At last year’s CEP conference in Dubrovnik, we were quite impressed with some of the innovative projects launched by the probation services in countries such as Portugal or Serbia. Their initiatives could prove relevant for us, for example, in the context of violence against women. Furthermore, regarding the continuous professionalisation of European and national probation services, we consider it indispensable that each European country participates in the further development of the common vision and be able to exchange views in this area with expert representatives from politics, the sciences and the sector within the framework of the CEP.

How would you like to contribute to the CEP’s development, project, initiatives and work programme?

It is important that the CEP become better known and therefore more relevant at the national level, both for probation services and for sentenced persons. We will therefore endeavour to make the topics discussed and make them accessible to all probation services in Switzerland to keep them informed about ongoing projects, initiatives and programmes. To this end, the SCEPP will regularly report on news from the CEP and other European countries on its website and in the newsletter “Prison and Probation Update”. Also the other way around, information should also flow in via the SKLB: current needs and challenges in the sector can be collected via the SKLB and brought to the attention of the CEP and make valuable contributions to its work.

What are the main priorities, topics, or themes (e.g. mental health, alternatives to detention, radicalisation and violent extremism, gender equality, caseload/workload, etc.) that you would like the CEP to address more frequently? How would you like to use your knowledge to support and participate in the development of its initiatives and work programme?

Switzerland is expected to adopt nationwide standards for probation for the first time in April 2023. Within this new reference framework, an audit system is to be tested by 2025 in the German-speaking part of the country. This entails determining how relevant data should be collected in the probation service, and which indicators enable a meaningful assessment of the services provided. The experience from this project can be significant and useful for the understanding and development of probation services in other European countries. On the other hand, Switzerland hopes it can benefit from the experience of other countries.

In addition, from Switzerland’s point of view, several areas require development and should be given higher priority in the future: These include transition management from correctional facilities to an outpatient setting, as well as working with relatives and dealing with people with special needs, especially those with mental health problems and physical illnesses.

Why do you think it is so important to promote alternative sanctions and measures? How would you describe the situation in your country in this regard?

The Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland has coined the phrase that persons convicted of criminal offences ‘can only learn how to deal with freedom in freedom’. The entire correctional system, and thus the probation system, too, has precisely this goal: to gradually introduce people to a life free of convictions, in “real conditions”. For example, in keeping with efforts to shorten prison sentences, alternative forms of custodial sentences are promoted whenever possible. In addition, probation assistance is anchored in the law as a rule, not an exception. It takes over the important function of connecting law enforcement, sanction enforcement and civil society either in place of a sanction or in the final stage of enforcement.

However, even though these principles are enshrined in the law, implementing them in practice is not so simple. Society’s current focus on zero tolerance towards recidivism means that ensuring risk management takes precedence over mobilising the means necessary for successful resettlement. As a result, there is a tendency to resort more readily to imprisonment and, in many cases, to forgo outpatient measures or probation assistance more often than what is necessary. It is therefore important to strengthen public confidence by making the means and other instruments of rehabilitation more transparent and public. This is achieved by proactively informing the public and political sphere about the purpose of the correctional system and making them understand that resettlement and public security go hand in hand.

We are convinced that being a member of the CEP will help pave the way to achieving these overarching goals and also further improve the quality of the Swiss correctional system.

Patrick Cotti, Director, Swiss Centre of Expertise in Prison and Probation SCEPP
Christoph Urwyler, Vice Manager of Analysis & Practice Development, Swiss Centre of Expertise in Prison and Probation SCEPP
Nathalie Dorn, Co-President, Swiss Conference of Heads of Probation Services CSDP
François Grivat, Co-President, Swiss Conference of Heads of Probation Services CSDP
Alex Kleiber, Co-President, Swiss Conference of Heads of Probation Services CSDP

Website SCEPP: (German) / (French)

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