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Common Probation Concerns.

Worldwide, there continues to be an undue emphasis on imprisonment and a remarkably low profile for the work of probation. Recently, there have been a number of attempts to redirect the efforts of probation services in Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, and a number of European countries. Probation also has been introduced to the former Eastern Bloc countries and some developing countries are experimenting with community supervision. At the recent International Corrections and Prisons Association Conference, held in Cape Town, South Africa, Aug. 27-31, probation leaders had an opportunity to discuss common concerns and exchange information about efforts in their respective countries.

In a panel presentation, Martin Tansey, president of the Council of European Probation, noted that there generally is a lack of information and discussion of community sanctions at most gatherings of corrections personnel. He amplified this comment by informing the delegates that "trends in imprisonment in Europe indicate a rise in the numbers in prison of 10 percent by 2005, which would be a prison population 30 percent higher than the current count." Tansey advised that in the majority of Europe, the use of community sanctions is ignored and most people have no idea how many offenders are being supervised in the community. He noted that, currently, "there is a 4-to-1 ratio of community sanctions to prison sanctions." Tansey advised that the United Nations has asked member nations to report on the use of community sanctions and that when the information is compiled, it should assist us in understanding the extent of the use of these alternative measures. But even without a strong statistical picture, Tansey feels that the roles of probation and of community supervision require attention if community sanctions are to realize the promise envisioned by legislators of their use.

In arguing for a "realistic approach to community supervision," he noted the following issues to which those working in probation must give attention:

* The need to involve the community in meaningful partnerships;

* The need for broad-based partnerships with other members of the justice and welfare systems in order to deal with the crime problem;

* The requirement to reflect on human rights in the work of probation;

* The importance of the victim in the justice system;

* The need to frame enforcement strategies in proactive terms rather than mere reaction;

* The essential recognition of the need for public confidence if probation is to succeed;

* The implementation of minimum standards for community sanctions and the work of probation; and

* Recognition of issues of social justice, especially those related to exclusion and inclusion of the offender.

Tansey concluded his presentation by stressing the importance of probation to the criminal justice system and by challenging both correctional and probation leaders to target raising the profile of probation as an agency that can and does contribute to public safety through its efforts to reduce recidivism by appropriate treatment and enforcement interventions.

During the conference, there was a planned professional session for delegates who represented probation and parole to meet and exchange information and share practice concerns. At this meeting, it was clear that there was a great deal of commonality among the representatives from North America, Africa, Asia and Europe regarding issues in community supervision.

Parole was a main interest of the group and discussions centered on supervising the high-risk offender. The role of risk assessment was discussed and the importance of continuing research to refine and improve the predicative accuracy of the instruments in use. The need for protocols between police and probation and parole for the emerging partnerships that are focusing on the high-risk offender also was a topic of conversation.

Office location and officer deployment was raised as a concern --namely, how can we ensure that probation officers supervise in the community rather than from the office? All countries were facing problems managing rural probation sites, where geography and limited services present unique challenges. All representatives expressed concerns about the lack of good workload/caseload measurements. The use of technology and information systems to enhance the work of probation is viewed as an important advancement.

Concerns about the prosecution of violations also were raised by the group, the majority noting that the slowness of the process made enforcement of orders difficult and also the response by the judiciary was seen, in the penalties attached to violations, as inadequate. The need to maintain a focus on the offender whether he or she is in or out of prison was stressed. There was a worry expressed that probation and parole were being fragmented when they should be moving toward integration with other criminal justice agencies.

The delegates at this session also discussed the problem of probation, viewing it from the victim's perspective, which may lead to a lack of rigor in accepting the challenge to restructure and reinvent probation. At this point, there was a discussion of the efforts in the United States to move out of a victim role and work toward a transformation of probation into a meaningful contributor to public safety. Also, the effort in England and Wales to modernize probation is providing an impetus for others to work on changing probation's future. These efforts are attempting to take community supervision out of the backseat and into the driver's seat and to take ownership for what role probation and parole will play in the criminal justice system. The vision the group had was of community corrections taking its rightful role as a major contributor to public safety.

The commonality of concerns expressed by these representatives from various countries who were responsible for community supervision programs was remarkable. Group members indicated that they would like to find a way to continue to share information among interested parties. The group has, in a sense, presented a challenge to associations that represent probation and parole, and corrections, in general. The idea that maybe it was an opportune time for a concerted effort to unite those interested in the state of probation throughout the world was expressed. Time will tell what associations or groups rise to this challenge.

Donald G. Evans is president of the Canadian Training Institute in Toronto.
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Title Annotation:probation as an alternative to inprisonment
Author:Evans, Donald G.
Publication:Corrections Today
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Dec 1, 2000
Previous Article:What's Happened to the Crime Issue?
Next Article:Do You Speak English?

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