With the conference on Foreign National Prisoners, held in October 2008 in Nieuwersluis, the Netherlands, the CEP Expert Group on Foreign Nationals made its first public appearance. “I was very content with the number of and the diversity of the participants”, comments Rolf Streng, one of the organisers of the conference and Expert Group member.” As many as 15 European countries were represented. That was beyond my expectations and a good start for the further development of the Expert Group.

“The CEP Expert Group  on Foreign Nationals was established last April after CEP and a network of European organisations which support foreign national prisoners called EGPA (European Group on Prisoners Abroad) decided to team up. Before, EGPA had difficulties finding European wide exposure and support for its work.
A ‘merger’ with the CEP would enable to bring the topic of foreign national prisoners under the attention of the CEP member organisations.

“When we discussed the integration of EGPA in the CEP network, we agreed that a European conference on  Foreign National Prisoners would give this subject the exposure that we were looking for”, says Rolf Streng. “In addition, a conference with participants form all over Europe should also give us the input to determine our action plan for the future. You could say this was indeed a crucial conference for the CEP Foreign prisoners-Expert Group.”

As the head of Bureau Buitenland of Reclassering Nederland, the Department which provides support to Dutch imprisoned abroad and one of the biggest organisations in the EGPA network, he offered to organise this conference. As a venue he found the historic main building of a women’s prison complex in Nieuwersluis, where the conference was held on the 16th and 17th of October.

Looking back, Rolf Streng is content with the results of the conference. “Initially, we planned to attract some 20 to 25 guests from abroad. But at the start of the conference, we could welcome 65. Moreover, among the guests there was a  good balance of the parties involved in working with foreign national prisoners, such as prison, probation, NGO’s, lawyers and the judiciary. With such a diversity of participants, the topic of the conference is viewed upon from many different angles, which is always very inspiring.”

One of those ‘inspiring angles‘ for Rolf Streng personally were the ideas of a participant from Germany about the development of a common practice for the transfer of Foreign National Prisoners. “Instead of building one framework for the whole of Europe , he advocated that neighbouring countries should concentrate on bilateral cooperation with regard to foreign national prisoners. After all, for every country in Europe most of its national prisoners detained abroad are in its neighbouring countries. And once you have developed a bilateral practice, you can see how to expand that to other countries in Europe. I think this may be a productive way to make a (re)start and work together on this subject, also with regard to the moment when the European Framework Decision on the Transfer of convicted foreign national prisoners, and Non-Custodial Sanctions and Measures for foreign nationals, comes into force.”

This idea and others will be taken to the next meeting of the CEP Expert Group on the 5th of February in London, when the direction of the Expert Group will be determined. “We will set up the headlines of a plan, for European wide support to foreign national prisoners, that we consider to be both ambitious and realistic”, Rolf Streng says. “We hope to share this with the participants of the Nieuwersluis conference, so that they can act as a reference group. In that way, we expect to be able to keep active contacts with the participants of the conference and ensure further development of ideas on Foreign National
Prisoners, which hopefully will lead to a situation in which every country in Europe offers support to this vulnerable group of prisoners. After all, that was the main goal of the former EGPA, and the main topic of the conference  in Nieuwersluis. ”

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