The 2008 edition of the annual meeting of Directors General of Probation Services in Europe, held on the 27th and 28th of November, truly could  be called ‘European’ in every respect. First, the  venue was the Palais de l’Europe in the European capital Strasbourg, France. Second, the programme consisted of the leading themes and challenges in the coming years of  the sector of probation in Europe.  “Notably the workshop on the upcoming EU Framework Decisions was an eye-opener to me”,  reacts Annette Esdorf, Deputy Director General of the Department of Prisons & Probation of the Danish Ministry of Justice.

The Directors General meeting  has originated as a CEP event. The meeting in Strasbourg, however, has been organized by the Council of Europe.  It regarded the Directors General meeting as an ideal platform to inform probation services in Europe about its Recommendations of Probation, which will come into effect  in 2010. Other themes treated concerned Electronic Monitoring , What Works, Restorative Justice & Probation and the EU Framework Decisions on alternative sanctions and measures.

“I think it is a very good idea to bring together all the Directors General in Probation to discuss the hot topics in Europe  and to learn from each other’s experiences”, comments Annette Esdorf.  “I particularly liked the workshop on What Works, in which also the  inter-disciplinary and multi-agency approaches to public protection were included.  There was a clear focus on the cooperation between prison and probation. When discussing the relation between prison and probation, there is a tendency in discussions to argue that probation is better than prison. However, I believe that it is more constructive to see probation as complementary to prison, and vice versa, where prison comes in as last resort.”

This view corresponds to the way probation and prison are organized in Denmark. For over 35 years both sections are an integral part of the departmental organisation of the Ministry of Justice. “Due to this model, you can say that, as compared to other countries,  probation in Denmark  has become more prison-like, with a focus not only on help and support but also on control and monitoring. Instead,  prison has become more probation-like, with increased attention for treatment and rehabilitation”, explains Annette Esdorf. ” The short lines between probation and prison enable probation to react quickly and firmly when breaches of alternative sanction programmes occur. Thanks to this model, Denmark has managed to extend the use of probation and alternative measures considerably and in this way to keep its prison population on a stable level over the past few decades.”

Another workshop, on the developments in probation on a European level, turned out to be an eye-opener for the Danish Deputy Director. This workshop had been organized by CEP and was lead by CEP Secretary General. Annette Esdorf: “This workshop was about the EU Framework Decisions that are about to be adopted. I hadn’t heard about them before. So after the meeting I rushed home and tried to find out what the Framework Decisions would imply for us.”

At the moment, the Danish Ministry of Justice is drawing up a plan for the implementation of the Framework Decision when it comes into effect. “There is a lot to do, but we also have some years to work on it”, says Annette Esdorf.  “I even look forward to the situation in which probation measures can be transferred between the EU member states. In the Nordic countries a similar regulation is in force for several years now. It works quite smoothly. So maybe we can share our best practices with other European countries in a conference on the Framework Decisions.”

You can read more about the EU Framework Decision on the transfer of non-custodial sanctions and measures here.

Michael Donnellan, Director of the Irish Probation Service and one of the speakers at the above mentioned workshop of the Framework Decisions , announced that his organization is willing to organize a CEP conference on the Framework Decisions in 2009. More information on this initiative can be found at the CEP website soon.

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