Each European country or region has its own criminal justice system and its own probation organisation (or organisations). That is the main reason why it has proved to be so difficult to transfer good projects or programmes from one probation organisation to another. STARR (Strengthening Transnational Approaches to Reducing Re-offending) has been set up to address this issue. Last spring STARR organised a conference in Cambridge on the topic ‘What works in reducing re-offending’. Professor Friedrich Lösel, director of the Institute of Criminology at the University of Cambridge, professor of psychology at the University of Erlangen/Nuremberg and one of the main organizers, looks back. “At the conference we have, in fact, been stock taking: what do we know about successfully reducing re-offending in the different European countries and what must be done to achieve a better transfer of best practices?”
The interview for this article lasted more than three quarters of an hour. In this time professor Lösel compared criminology to medical science no less than three times. “We really need evidence-based practice in the field of probation, just like in the field of medicine. Evidence comes by replication. You need more than one study to show the effects of a programme or treatment. These studies have to take place in different contexts, at other places and preferably across countries. Many people and many organisations will come to you and say that their probation programme is really great. I say: please, show it in a proper study, with a control group that contains persons with comparable histories, problems, risk levels and other characteristics. So, in short, we badly need more research in Europe on what works in probation. Not only because we simply need to know what works and what doesn’t, but also because sound research is very important to convince governments to make long-term investments in sound offender rehabilitation.”
North America and Europe
Most of the research on what works in probation comes from North America. “However, the differences between North America and Europe are much bigger than you might think,” knows professor Lösel. “I will give you a small example. Many young Americans are very outspoken and accustomed to talk about their problems and private matters. Many young people in Europe are not used to do that. If you ‘export’ a successful American programme to Europe without translating and adapting it on this point (and probably on other points as well), the programme will probably fail.” Despite the difficulties, many programmes have been transferred from one country to another over the past decade “Anger management training for offenders originated in Canada and was successfully introduced in the United Kingdom and other countries”, professor Lösel recalls. “Aggression replacement training has been developed in the USA and was transferred to the United Kingdom and the Netherlands and from there to Hungary. Some programmes were quite fundamentally changed before or after introduction in another country. Many sex offender treatment programmes for example originally come from Canada. They were adapted to the British context and developed further. Now the UK is leading in this field and some research suggests not only positive outcomes but also the cost-effectiveness of these programmes.”
Eleven possible problems
According to professor Lösel all of these programme transfers have to cope with many transfer problems. In his opening address at the STARR conference in Cambridge he listed no less than eleven possible problems when transferring programmes from one country to another. They range from different cultural traditions, different justice systems, different age ranges for juveniles, different minority problems, different organisational structures of the prison and probation system, different staff roles and different experiences in evaluation, to a different weigthing of various penal aims (compensation of guilt, protection of the public, general deterrence, rehabilitation and restitution) and differences in financial resources, crime policy and incarceration rates. “Of course, these problems will not occur in all transfers. It’s meant to be an overview of what factors can play a role. In my view the introduction of a new programme should be realised by three parties: the criminal justice system, the probation organisation(s) and a research partner (e.g. a university). Together they can, at the very beginning of the process, check the checklist to see which factors might turn out to be a problem and therefore should be taken into account.”
The STARR conference in Cambridge was attended by both experts from the field of probation as researchers. Professor Lösel: “We discussed experiences in different countries with regard to adopting and adapting programmes from other countries. In doing so, we learned from each other. I think many participants went home with ideas for new projects and with a better knowledge on how to bring such projects to a good end. CEP can play an important role in that. Probation is carried out in different ways across Europe. In Northern Europe many probation organisations do not only casework but also offer their clients structured programmes, like anger management and aggression replacement trainings. In these countries a well organized system of monitoring and caring after release from prison has been set up and manuals describe what probation officers should do in which situation. I think that, although the research in Europe is limited, working with structured programmes has really proved its worth. In many Central or Southern European countries probation organisations conduct mainly classical casework: the probation officer has face-to-face contacts with his client and works via supervision and a trustful relationship. Most of the Eastern European countries, that were behind the Iron Curtain until twenty years ago, have only just set up a modern approach to offender rehabilitation. So, there are huge differences and you cannot simply say what is appropriate under all circumstances. People sometimes tend to defend their own way of working and resist to possible change. ‘Those Brits are trying to conquer Europe with their programme approach’ is an attitude you find not rarely. CEP is a neutral broker, trusted by all the member organisations. It has knowledge of probation and knows the situation and the probation systems in the different countries. It has brought the right people and the right organisations together in the past. I’m confident STARR and CEP will actively work together to enable us to further improve offender rehabilitation across Europe.”
STARR: Strengthening Transnational Approaches to Reducing Re-offending
In the European probation sector there is a great demand for knowledge of best practices. A project or a programme that is very successful in one probation organisation does not necessarily work in another country. However, there is still no unified view of how best practices in community justice settings can be transferred from one jurisdiction and be implemented in another. STARR is set up by the National Offender Management Service for England and Wales (NOMS, UK) and the London Probation Trust to address this issue. CEP is a partner organisation in the project.
The aim of the STARR project is to find out what works in reducing re-offending and to develop models of best practice and good practice implementation in Europe. STARR concentrates on three areas: youth crime, domestic violence and substance-related offending. The project contains various approaches such as surveys on current practices in Europe, systematic reviews of evaluation studies, and research on the implementation of three programmes in three different countries: a project on youth crime in Hungary, a project on domestic violence in France and a project on drug and alcohol related crime in Bulgaria. Research by the Institute of Criminology of the University of Cambridge will show which obstacles the participants in these projects encounter, how they can be overcome and what really works in reducing reoffending in Europe.