The second meeting of the RAN Prison and Probation Working Group in 2017 took place in Dublin on 22nd and 23rd of May, in close collaboration with the Confederation of European Probation. The meeting was hosted by the Irish Probation Service. Participants were mainly experts on probation both on practitioner and policy level. Some of them already had vast experience with CVE/PVE and/or are tasked to deal with it, while some others were dealing with the topic as one of the challenges for current probation practice. A representative of the European Commission (DG Home Affairs and Migration) also attended the meeting.
Welcoming speeches were delivered by the RAN P&P, CEP and the Irish Probation Service. Special attention was given to the Handbook on practical ways in addressing radicalisation and violent extremism produced by the PC-CP Working Group of the Council of Europe.
The meeting benefitted of insights from Member States’ experiences. Geraldine Blin (Project Director for the Fight against Radicalisation, French Ministry of Justice), described the situation in France. Main goals of the work in open environment are the detection of offenders suspected to be engaged in a radicalisation process and the assessment of the risks via a tool developed on the basis of other models (such as the VERA II and the Good Life Model). Offenders are supervised very closely through standardised procedures. Each probation service also has at least two specialised officers to monitor these specific target group.
The role of probation in dealing with radicalised offenders and returnees was also investigated further through lessons from past experiences. Tina Jörlemann (Lower Saxony, Germany) and Hugh Hamill (Northern Ireland) presented the work of probation with respectively sexual offenders and domestic extremist offenders (IRA), keeping in mind also the differences between the three groups of offenders. For example, two important lessons learnt from the work in probation with sexual offenders emerged to be: the need for smooth transition management and establishment of a central agency for supervision and exchange of information. The sensitive issue of exchange of information in multi-agency setting was confirmed as a challenge also when working with high risk (re)offenders for which data from multiple settings are key for safeguarding the person and society in general. An interesting good practice of the experience with IRA terrorists was the focus of probation on resettlement and related issues of resettlement, such as unemployment, difficult relationships with family and friends, poverty, mental illness and alcohol abuse. In addition any work in probation was based on voluntariness.
Regarding returning Foreign Terrorist Fighters participants exchanged thoughts on two challenges of the probations services:
- a) Differences between returnees and other radicalised offenders;
- b) The role of probation in re-socialisation of returnees.
Similarities emerged with groups that where exposed to extreme situations such as military soldiers in combat (in the traumatisation), small criminal gangs (as opposed to wider organised criminal groups) in the search for identity and belonging and foreign fighters in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Another consideration to be taken into account when working with returnees is that not all of them are ‘criminal’ at the same level and there is the need to recognise several level of categorisations of risks posed by returnees: on the basis of these levels, different approaches need to be developed when working with them.
Finally, discussion was held on the training needs for probation officers: signaling and risk assessment, multi-agency cooperation, interaction with radicalised persons and safety for staff and families. Once again, it emerged the challenge of working within multi-agency cooperation on classified information that cannot be shared with partners. Simon Cornwall (Consultant on Counter terrorism to the United Nations) and Bernd Glaeser (NGO Neustart) presented their experiences in the field of training staff who deal with radicalised clients.