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Contribution selected by Filodiritto among those published in the Proceedings “6th International Conference Multidisciplinary Perspectives in the Quasi-Coercive Treatment of Offenders - SPECTO 2017”
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TOMITA Mihaela, PREDESCU Mihai, DARJAN Ioana
 West University of Timisoara (ROMANIA)
 West University of Timisoara (ROMANIA)
 West University of Timisoara (ROMANIA)
In the recent years, there was an intense debate in Romanian society about prison population, overcrowding and measures to reduce inmate population. Probation and other community sanctions and measures (CSM) were advocated as a way to reduce the inmate population and prevent prisons’ overcrowding. Other voices argued that CMS are a net widening tool and that they help preventing and monitoring a large number of formerly underrepresented offences.
In order to test the two assertions, we used available Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics SPACE I and II reports for the period 2010-2015. We analyzed the evolution of inmate population and the number of subjects to probation services and other CSM. The results showed little impact of probation services on inmate population and prisons’ overcrowding, but a strong development of probation services. We have also compared the results with the developments in other European countries, in order to find out if there are similar patterns of evolutions of the key-indicators.
Our conclusion is that Romanian probation system had an accelerated development, based on two factors. The first is the institutional construction and the changes in criminal law. The second factor is the social pressure to decrease the costs of judicial procedures and their long duration.
The background of the study
The main debate issue in Romanian politics in the last year is the intention of government to change the penal laws. One of the recurrent arguments is to prevent the overcrowding of Romanian penitentiaries, due to the fact that there is an impeachment from European Union for the inadequate conditions of living in Romanian penitentiary system. Developing a new range of community sanctions and measures (CMS) became a priority. As we could see, the CSM are used as regulatory social measures, in order to solve administrative issues. On the other hand, the professional that are working in the field have an ethical and professional duty to use such measures to raise the quality of the criminal justice system.
In this paper, we try to analyze and to demonstrate that increasing CSM is not an adequate measure to solve prisons’ overcrowding, but a way to improve the services in the criminal justice system.
The justice system reflects the ideas, ideals and needs of specific societies. It is not surprising that the aims and goals of criminal justice system changed over historical periods. If the role of punitive measures during Middle Ages was to give public examples of restoring the equilibrium, modernization proposed the incarceration as the primary way of acting. The goal of detention was to “clean” the society, to attempt to restore (reeducate, redesign) the moral values of inmates. Isolation and rehabilitation are entrenched in a medical perspective, in which the offender is a “sick” member of society, with a contagious effect on others, so he has to be removed, quarantined, treated, and, eventually, reinserted in society. Postmodernism challenge this view and changed the focus on restoring social relations, interpretation and construction of meanings. Alternatives to detention became more and more complex, from supervision to counseling. Alternatives based on community participations are regarded as a qualitative step forward in treating offenders, due to the fact that they facilitate a real reinsertion of offenders in the social structures and personal support networks . The paradigmatic shift from treating offenders to a more educative approach follows trends in understanding social relation as dynamic meaning construction, rather than deterministic events. This shift could be traced in all social sciences, and penal intervention is not an exception.
The treatment of the offenders could be analyzed from law sciences point of view (regarding the measures, proportionality, penal system, et al.), from a psychological perspective (the subjective meaning of punishment, temporality and impact on self-development) or from an ethical perspective.
Nevertheless, there is also a social approach of it that is focusing on the social function of different treatment, and on institutional goals. Our paper is based on a social perspective. From this perspective, all social measures (in the form of law, intervention, social measures designed to facilitate rehabilitation and social reinsertion) have meaning only in a social engineering, focused on “normalization” of the offenders. So, the focus of intervention could be set on prevention (primary intervention) of offensive behaviors, detention (secondary intervention) in order to isolate the offender and to prevent further inappropriate behavior, or monitoring and supporting social rehabilitation (tertiary intervention) after the release, in order to prevent recidivism.
If we are referring to Burrel and Morgan’s approach of social theories (1972), we could observe a shift from a basically functionalist approach to a more interpretative one. If the main social function of the punishment was to regulate society by punishing breaches of the social rules and contracts, in later years a more person-focused approach emerged, with a specific stress on how the offenders understands and regulates his/her own behavior, on his/her understanding of the social rules and their purposes. CSM are a way to accomplish both prevention of offensive behaviors and also relapse in criminal behaviors. There is a logical statement that developing CSM should reduce the number of incarceration, due to a better prevention and/or alternative ways of dealing with offenders. In this paper we test the assumption that improving CSM is a useful tool in preventing the emergence of more severe breaches of the law, therefore reducing the number of sentences that require detention.
From a social point of view, there must be a trend toward increasing the number of persons receiving CSM and a decrease in prisons’ population. The alternative is that CSM tend to have a net- widening effect that brings into attention more law breaching behaviors.
The CMS are an evolving field. The assumption is that they represent a more humanistic approach of treatment of offenders, which is more respectful to individual human rights of the offenders .
The aim of CMS is not to isolate the offender, but to regulate his behaviors in social context. The regulation means that rules are clearly established and stated, so there is no misinterpretation of them.
Also, activity of probation officers is both to monitor and to control, but, also, to guide and to counsel the offender, in order to support its social functioning. This implies the necessity of a highly professionalized probation officer and, also, it requires a rather limited number of offenders per probation officer. We could easily see that this is not the case in most European countries.
Supervision is considered more important than punishment, and there are more and more sophisticated ways to do it. Mass supervision has the role of preventing the occurrence of unwanted behaviors, while punishment is a way to react to them. Both of them are entrenched in the idea of a highly regulated society that is not changing rapidly, as the effect of social interaction.
Methodology of research
Aim of the study
The aim of the research is to test if developing CSM has a significant effect on reducing prisons’ population. We will test this assumption in Romanian context, but we are aware that Romanian penal measures are partially influenced by the government decisions. Therefore, we will also present the trends in several European countries, with more or less similar characteristics as Romania, in term of population, history and background.
In this study, we are using data from SPACE reports ( , . , , , , , , , , ), based on European surveys. The SPACE I report offers data about the number of inmates in penitentiary systems across Europe, about the density and prisons’ population characteristics. The SPACE II report presents data on CSM and the number of beneficiaries. Both of these reports contain, also, data about the staff involved. Due to the diversity of criminal justice systems and national reporting methodologies, all transnational comparison should be regarded carefully. Both surveys offer longitudinal data, by years, from 2009 up to date.
For the purpose of this study, we chose to draw comparisons in terms of national trends (more in depth on Romania), because the reporting is more reliable. When we look at prison population (From Space I report), we took into account the following categories: total prison population (including detained pre-trial population), the number of detained per 100000 persons (in order to regulate the different numbers of population in different years, as well as the national differences in population), and the density of inmates per 100 detention places. Also, we took into consideration the movement of the prison population (flows of entries and exit), and the ratio inmates/staff. From the SPACE II report, we took into account the number of CSM beneficiaries (stock), the entries (flow), and exits of them and, also, the beneficiaries/staff ratio. The data we are presenting are from 2010 onward. The detailed data for Romania are available and, in order to see the trends in other countries, we selected a diverse sample of countries from Europe (both EU and non-EU countries).
The prison population progression in Romania has a distinct wave patterns: from 2005 the number of inmates (37929) starts to shrink until 2009 (27028), then rises again up to 2013 (33132), and shrinks again up to 2015 (28648). Although it looks like normal variation, we have to take into account that these demographic changes are quite big for this period. In terms of inmate per 100 000 citizens between 2010 and 2014, the progression is from 175 inmates in 2005 to 125 in 2009, 165 in 2013 and 144 in 2015. As these data suggest, the demographic reduction of Romanian population didn’t translate in a similar reduction of prison population. For the period taken into consideration, the inflection point seems to be 2012, when we experienced the largest prison population in the last decade, and, also, the highest density (inmates/ detention places). If in 2010 and 2011 Romania had less than 100 densities (88 and 89 respectively), in 2012 it was a 118-prison density. Since then, it was trying to reduce it, and CSM was considered one of the solutions.
In the same period, probation (and other CSM) developed rapidly in Romanian criminal justice system. We can see it from the exponential growth of CSM beneficiary population: from 9628, in 2010, to 40283, in 2015. Only in the last year of reporting we have seen an increase of 15233 beneficiaries (more that the total from 2010).
One central inquiry of this study is if the rise in CSM population is consistent with a similar decrease in prison population. Chart number 1 (Fig. 1) presents the progression of prison and CSM population between 2010 and 2015.
As we could see, the prison population is rather stable compared with CSM one, who is experiencing a steady growth. Only in the last year, the CSM population outnumbered the prison population. But when we look at the totals, we could see that there is a major growth (almost 45,13%) of cases. It is clear that developing CSM is not a way to reduce significantly the number of prison inmate. If we are looking at the ratio between entries and exits of prison population, we also could see that only in 2014 the exits outnumbered the entries (gain 1678 in 2010, 2582 in 2011, 1351 in
2012, 1611 in 2013 and loss of 3265 in 2014). The numbers are consistent with trends from other countries. Also, the number of staff is relatively stable (ranging from 12141 to 12731). All data show a stable prison system, with relatively minor variations. On the other hand, the image of CSM population pictures a different story. Chart number two presents the data for CSM.
Although the exits doubled during reported period, the number of entries increased almost 8 times, and the total increased almost 4 times. The reduced number of exits suggests that we are talking about new beneficiaries, because recidivism is not having a big impact on new entries. In terms of staff, the situation is difficult, because it remained rather stable (from 460 in 2010 to 440 in 2015), with the extreme lower number in 2013 (298 in 2013), and higher number in 2014 (563). The number of staff reported is the total, including managerial and support staff, so the number of probation officers/counsellor is smaller. If we analyse the ratio beneficiaries/staff, there are huge discrepancies between prisons and CSM. In prisons, the burden is rather stable, from 2,42inmates/prison personnel in 2010 to 2, 24 in 2014. In the same period, the number of beneficiaries per probation officers it increased from 20, 88 to 91, 55.
More in-depth analysis showed that not all type of crimes is equally represented, with some like trafficking being overrepresented and others, like violent crimes, are underrepresented .
Romanian probation system is rather new, so it cannot be considered a typical system for delivering CSM. In order to have a clear picture of prison and CSM population across Europe, we selected some rather diverse countries, from both Eastern and Western Europe, with different range of population. The selected countries (Belgium, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Serbia, Italy, and Greece) have diverse cultural and social approaches of punishment. We charted the evolution of prison and CSM population per 100000 inhabitants reported in 2010 and 2015. We choose to present such ratios due to the minimizing effect on demographic change. The results are presented in the chart number three.
The prison population is relatively stable in all countries. Although most of the countries experience a decrease in prison population, the variations are not significant. When it comes to CSM populations, the variability is higher and more significant. Countries with older and more developed probation tradition like Belgium and Germany have a stable CSM population. The countries with developing CSM have an exponential increase. The most interesting case is that of Serbia, that increased from 10 CSM beneficiaries in 2010 to 1190 in 2015.
Conclusions, discussions and limits
The assumption that improving CSM services means a decrease of prison population was invalidated.  Durnescu argues that all starts from the assumption of the constancy of offences across years. But all the data supports the idea that developing CSM is a net widening measure and not a mean of reducing prison population. Maybe we should supplement the assumption of constancy of offences with one about the proportion of discovered infractions from the total.
CSM should be regarded not only an alternative to incarceration but also as social instrument to regulate behaviours. More important, the roles of probation officers should be regarded from a social point of view. A more important role in counselling rather than monitoring means that new sets of competences are required, and this idea has an impact on probation officer’s professionalization.
Restorative justice means that CSM should be more socially embedded in offender’s support network. There is clear evidence that CSM services have the potential to be more diverse and inclusive. That means that we could expect an even more impressive increase in CSM population.
But that also means that in order to preserve some quality to those services we had to invest more, to train and hire a significantly larger number of probation officers, social workers, and educators.
Also, case management became ineffective when large numbers of cases are directed to the same people. For example, if somebody has 70 cases it means that the officers could allocate only three and a half working hours per month to a specific case. In such condition, intervention in the ecological context of the offender is not possible.
The study has some major limits, due to the fact that is relying on totals rather than breakdowns on age, gender, type of crime and so on. Also, countries variability of reports is a significant issue .
But the aim of our study was not to make an in-depth analysis of all European countries, but rather to test an assumption about the relation between CSM and prison population. As it happens, if the assumption proved false in the case of Romania, it means that we cannot fully support it. Also, international analysis, as limited as it is, demonstrated that the same assumption is not supported by any analysed country’s data.
In the end we conclude that prison population is not a result of social functioning but, more probably, of social approach of offences and measures. The American example, where some state has 600 inmates per 100000 population, shows that type of measures and incarcerations are a function of specific criminal justice system, that reflects also the social ideology and general approach of crime and punishment. In this context it is reasonable to assume that although better alternatives to incarceration will not necessary reduce the number of inmates, it will change the focus on prevention and will favour social efficient measures to reduce the harm suffered by society as a result of the phenomenon of crime.
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