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Are the Community Sanctions and Measures the Key for Reducing the Prison Overcrowding?

12 gennaio 2019 -
Are the Community Sanctions and Measures the Key for Reducing the Prison Overcrowding?

Contributo selezionato da Filodiritto tra quelli pubblicati nei Proceedings “6th International Conference Multidisciplinary Perspectives in the Quasi-Coercive Treatment of Offenders - SPECTO 2017”

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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[1], PREDESCU Mihai[2], DARJAN Ioana[3]

 

[1] West University of Timisoara (ROMANIA)

[2] West University of Timisoara (ROMANIA)

[3] West University of Timisoara (ROMANIA)

Emails: mihaela.tomita@e-uvt.ro mihai.predescu@e-uvt.ro, ioana.darjan@e-uvt.ro

 

Abstract

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.

Keywords: criminal justice system, probation, prison population, community sanction and measures

 

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.

 

Theoretical approach

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 [1]. 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 [2].

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.

 

Data collection

In this study, we are using data from SPACE reports ([3] [4], [5]. [6], [7], [8], [9], [10], [11], [12], [13], [14]), 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).

 

Results 

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.

 

Articolo pubblicato in: Diritto penale, Diritto penitenziario


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