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!

Pascal Décarpes (University of Greifswald, Germany), COST member (Working Group 3), Substitute member of the management committee.

2 Comments on “On a French workshop on probation…

  1. With all due respect Pascal there have been numerous former workshops and conferences pertaining to probation which took place in France, and to name just a few the Agen recruitment conference/workshop on recruitment and training (December 2009); the Agen conference on reinsertion, reentry and desistance (June 2010); the Reims conference on the efficacy of probation (Dec 2013) not to mention many many more conferences and workshops without the word probation in it but which actually pertained to it along with a lot of practitioner’s unions, special congress. In fact this field has been particularly dynamic over the last decade or so. This does not reduce in anyway whatsoever the quality of Amiens conference and I do hope that for those who unfortunately missed it – it took place in the very middle of university exams – a book or special ed of a Journal will allow us to read everyone’s presentation.

    • Dear Martine, thanks for reminding us of previous important events. I´m fully aware of them and they have really contributed to the development of knowledge on probation activities. I just didn´t mention them to focus on this workshop during which it dealt only with State probation services and nothing else (but nothing less). I still believe important to name probation at such and to discuss also about probation officers as we do in the Working Group 3 “practising supervision”. I´ve changed the title anyway since it was not meant to forget previous workshops, but to underline the qualities of this one.


EU Flag COST is supported by the EU Framework Programme Horizon 2020


The views expressed on this website are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of COST.