On a French workshop on probation…
Probation has become a public issue in many countries European countries since the numbers of probationers has increased significantly over the last decades, nowadays being two or three times higher than the prison population. Within this context, the workshop “Probation in France. Supervision in the community between permanency and change” held at the Jules Verne University in Amiens (France) on 14 June 2013 came at the right moment and even at the right place. Although probation has been already studied in France over twenty years (Décarpes 2013), this workshop can be indeed considered as the first one entirely and precisely dedicated to French probation activities.
Organised by four different universities and research centers where early-stage researchers currently work on probation issues, this workshop was conceptualised into four axes: Contemporary changes, institutional reconfigurations, mutation of rationalities and evolution of supervision forms. The first talk was made by Ludovic Jamet and Philip Milburn (France) who presented some mid-term results of a research on recent evolutions of probation practices within their institutional and professional field. Doing the fieldwork in one of the biggest probation service in France with 50 probation officers, they mainly described the daily activities of POs in a very poor and heterogeneous suburb area near Paris. It echoed the next paper dealing with German probation facing penal mutations in which I explained how POs in Germany are confronted with three core missions – control, cure and care – and why it might lead to conflict or oppositions when carrying them out. Another paper from Roxane Kaspar (France) introduced an analysis of the territorialisation process of national penal policies and its repercussion on sentence implementation in the region of Franche-Comté. Taking into account that there are around 100 probation services in France, the understanding of local particularities are very fruitful to assess probation activities. This approach was completed by Alexia Jonckheere (Belgium) who developed the approach of routine for the sake of rationalization and how far routine day-to-day work can contribute to new probation practices. Pursuing this idea, Olivier Razac, Fabien Gouriou and Grégory Salle (France) looked at the rationalities of French probation and highlighted six of them: penal, educative, social, sanitary, criminological and managerial. Concluding with regard to probation outputs, Valérie Moulin (France and Switzerland) carried out a study on French discussion groups of reoffending prevention within probation services and the gap between theory and practical adaptation, followed by Philippe Pillonel and Simon Gabaglio (Switzerland) who created and implemented their own offender evaluation tool called ‘Active Process of Risk Management and Desistance Support (PAGRED)’.
Focusing this blog post on France, the first remark that arises from all presentations is that, since a tragic event during which a probationer committed a murder (January 2011) and its political manipulation for electoral reasons, practical consequences in probation services are considerable: workload increased, also because even short sentences (less than three months to serve) have to be supervised, and interviews with probationers within one month after prison release (new article 741-1 code of criminal procedure) are often conducted without the files or information having been received from the prison services. The second remark is common sense, but good to keep in mind: one has to differentiate activities from POs in prison and in the community, as it is commonly said that “prisoners run after POs inside and POs run after probationers outside”. A third aspect is that the impact of New Public Management and its entrepreneurial ideology pushed to new ways of organising social work in the frame of offender supervision, introducing proceedings such as delegation of services, outsourcing, subcontracting. Finally, a clear difficulty emerged during this workshop as it appears complicated in France to provide friendly criticism on probation since many practitioners and scholars consider it as a positive concept opposed to ‘bad prisons’ – even neutral axiology becomes challenging in times of passionate penal debates.
With around 40 participants, this high-profile workshop provided European perspectives with insights from Belgium, Germany and Switzerland and enabled some first comparisons on the different practices between two jurisdictions, but also between two local services (under the same national legislation or not). Regarding its European and comparative ambition, this workshop has fully found its place between the COST Action “Offender supervision in Europe” and the coming first world congress on probation next October in London where COST members will participate a.o. as key speakers. Let’s meet there and continue the discussion!