For the second edition of the CEP Awards, we introduced a new category: ‘Development of National Probation Services’. This award is for CEP members jurisdictions, who have made significant progress in developing probation services at a national level over the past three years. It is aimed at jurisdictions which are either in the process of establishing a new probation service or that have introduced significant changes to the way probation is delivered. The Croatian Probation Service is the first one to win this CEP Award. We spoke to Jana Špero, Assistant Minister for the Croatian Ministry of Justice Directorate for Prison System and Probation (and former Director General of the Probation Service) and Goran Brkić, Director General of the Croatian Probation Service, about the establishment of the Probation Service and their dreams for the future.

When and why was it decided that Croatia wanted to establish a probation service?

Community sanctions and measures were implemented at the end of 2001, after a new Croatian Criminal Code came into force in 1998. This new Criminal Code led to the development of the special Supervision of Suspended Sentence and Community Service Act in 1999, as well as all complimentary implementation regulations (ordinances) that came in force in 2001. Execution of these sanctions was at that time within the jurisdiction of the Directorate for Prison System, Central office, Department for Protective Supervision and Community Work. Community sanctions were executed by professionals who had university degrees mainly in social pedagogy, social work and psychology, and who were employees of the Ministry of Justice or Ministry of Social Welfare („commissioners”). While working at their full-time jobs in prisons, penitentiaries, correctional institutions for juvenile offenders, social welfare centres etc., they were not only working with offenders on a weekly basis, but also promoted the idea of probation in the wider community. After that initial period, the need to establish and develop a more integral probation system was recognised by the governmental structures. This new development was supported by the Council of Europe recommendations and other positive European practices.

After the judicial reforms started in 2005, a strong initiative was presented to further develop the probation system. The main goals of the reform were to: reduce the number of prisoners in overcrowded prisons, make execution of criminal sanctions more humane and help to reintegrate offenders into the community taking into consideration its safety. During that time, the government had concerns about the large prison population, high proportion of pretrial detainees, slow trial processes, no resettlement support in the community upon release from prison and lack of effective means to secure many early release cases.

Looking for solutions, the prison system gave strong support to the development of probation, and within the framework of the CARDS 2004 project, the Ministry of Justice, Directorate for Prison System with National Offender Management System from the UK, conducted in 2007 the EU Twinning light project “Support to the Development of a Probation System in Croatia”. Within this project, an array of European practices and experiences was reviewed, enabling Croatia to consider a wide range of options in the strategic planning process. Also, the gaps and needs analysis regarding the establishment of a probation system in Croatia was conducted. At the end of 2007, as a main result of the project, we had a five-year strategy for the establishment of a probation service in Croatia.

The process was formally started after the Strategy for the Development of the Croatian Probation Service 2008-2012 was adopted which defined two main goals: the development of a professional practice and the development of a professional organisation. This five-year process included aspects such as solving diverse legal matters, capacity management, human potentials, infrastructure, partnerships, evaluation, stakeholders and communication issues.

Who were involved in establishing the probation service?

Several people employed by the alternative sanctions department of the Directorate for Prison System, became members of the development team who started working on the Strategic Plan, and to date we are lucky because most of them are still with our probation service. The team was fully dedicated to the realization of strategic goals. During next few years we had strong support and help from EU and bilateral projects, which also included the bilateral project with the UK “Transitional Support to the Development of Probation System in the Republic of Croatia”. This project was funded by the Strategic Programme Fund (SPF) and lasted from April 2008 to the end of March 2010. After the completion of this project, the IPA 2008 project “Development of Probation System in the Republic of Croatia” followed in June 2011 through March 2013. Our partner in this project was a consortium of the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic. The next one was the Transition Facility project “Support to further development and strengthening of the Probation Service in Croatia”, conducted from 2015 to 2017 in cooperation with Spain and Germany.

What did you accomplish in the years since the start?

At this moment, we can say that we have a probation service capable of delivering a wide range of high quality services. It means that the desired outcomes so far have all been accomplished:

  • Full-scale and clear legal and programme frameworks for the performance of probation work;
  • Infrastructure tailored to the size and the capacity necessary for the performance of all probation activities on the whole territory of the Republic of Croatia;
  • A sufficient number of well-trained and motivated probation officers, qualified for the professional performance of all probation activities;
  • Effective organisation structure, with clear and efficient mutual communication channels;
  • Developed strategies of effective interaction with the social community, along with the developed identity of probation as socially responsible and competent.
The old probation services took many years to get where you are today, how did you manage to accomplish so many things in such a short amount of time?

On one hand, we had much luck to have an opportunity to learn from longstanding EU probation services about their best practices and from their mistakes. On the other hand, we had an enthusiastic development team with a strong commitment to establish a new probation service based on certain values and strong work principles. Individuals were the key element in this development, firstly the development team and secondly a good selection of probation officers with a strong background in social pedagogy, psychology, social work and law and who want to learn from the best EU practitioners.

What was the influence from other European countries in establishing the probation service?

The influence was certainly enormous. From the beginning and during the entire development, we were supported by EU and bilateral projects. The UK, Czech Republic, Spain, Germany and Norway were carriers of the projects which helped us to build the professional organisation we have today. EU colleagues engaged within these projects, selflessly shared their knowledge, practices and experiences with us and we are very thankful for that. From the very beginning, our staff showed great commitment to the projects and we really had a lot of benefits from them. I believe that projects are a great resource for development, from both human and financial side. Very often in daily work we do not have so many possibilities to change a lot of things, but when we have a project in process it gives us new spirit, new motivation and occasion to see things from a different perspective and opportunity to change the practice.

What are your wishes and dreams for the future of Croatian probation?

Our plan is to continue to develop through projects on the international level, to learn from the best and exchange knowledge with other colleagues across the EU. Further development of our Probation Service should head into two directions: the strengthening of its internal capacities, stronger affiliation with other stakeholders such as the prison system and the expansion of the scope of the tasks it performs, as well as the advancement in executing existing tasks. The strengthening of internal capacities of the Probation Service would be realized through improvement of material-technical conditions of existing probation offices and the strengthening of human resources as the most important resource in our service, through providing continuous supervision support and the advancement of knowledge and skills by way of new training as well as through knowledge and experience exchanged with colleagues of other European probation services. Improvement of professional competencies is a continuous process and we want to maintain a high standard of staff competence. We want the best probation service we can have and want to create a performance led culture which values quality and continuous improvement. Accordingly, our efforts will be focused on making it happen.

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