BCN1On 13-14 March 2014, the Observatory of the Penal System and Human Rights of Barcelona University hosted the second workshop to be organised in the framework of the project "Re-socialisation of offenders in the EU: enhancing the role of the civil society". Participants included Mr Dimitar Markov, Senior Analyst, Law Program, Center for the Study of Democracy (Bulgaria), Dr Gytis Andrulionis, Deputy Director, Law Institute (Lithuania), Mr Simonas Nikartas, Head of Criminological Research Department, Law Institute (Lithuania), Prof Dr Christine Graebsch, Professor, Dortmund University of Applied Sciences and Arts (Germany), Dr Sven-Uwe Burkhardt, Associate Professor, Dortmund University of Applied Sciences and Arts (Germany), Mr Nicola Giovannini, President, Droit au Droit (Belgium), Prof Iñaki Rivera Beiras, Director, Observatory on the Penal System and Human Rights with the University of Barcelona (Spain), Mr Alejandro Forero Cuellar, Researcher, Ms Maria Celeste Tortosa, Researcher, Observatory on the Penal System and Human Rights with the University of Barcelona (Spain).


OSPDH BCNUniversityThe purpose of the workshop was to discuss the application and scope of alternatives to sentences of imprisonment used in five EU target Member States (Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Lithuania and Spain). Questions at the centre of this workshop included: what exactly falls within the scope of "alternatives to imprisonment" and how to assess the effectiveness of such measures.


Definition of alternatives to imprisonment
As highlighted by participants, very often a measure defined as 'alternative to imprisonment' is actually representing 'an alternative to freedom'. This would be the case when highly restrictive alternative measures are imposed on people who otherwise would not go to prison. As an example the participants considered the alternative measures applied on pregnant women and mothers with small children. In some countries, such women would never go to prison because of their specific status, so any alternative measures would not only aggravate their situation but would also not count as an alternative to imprisonment. The participants agreed that not all non-custodial sanctions actually represent alternatives to imprisonment and should be analysed against the specific national background.

BCN2As regards the scope of the definition, the participants agreed that suspended prison sentences and parole should also be considered as an alternative to imprisonment in addition to the non-custodial penalties. Although the original sanction imposed by the court in such cases is imprisonment, the fact that the sentence is suspended and alternative measures apply during the suspension period justifies the inclusion of such sentences in the scope of alternatives to imprisonment. In fact, the persons on parole are in a situation, which is very similar to the situation of the persons sentenced to probation. In both cases the sentenced persons are subjected to specific measures and risk being sent to prison if they do not comply with them. The only difference, although a significant one, is that persons with non-custodial sentences have never been sentenced to imprisonment, while those on parole or with suspended sentences have originally been sentenced to imprisonment but have not served their sentence or part of it.


Evaluation of alternatives to imprisonment

BCN3The participants also discussed the lack of adequate mechanisms to take into account the opinion of the people subjected to alternative measures when such measures are being evaluated. Alternative measures are usually assessed on the basis of other criteria such as invested resources, impact on overcrowding and re-offending, public safety, etc., but never from the point view of the sentenced persons. At the same time, the sentenced persons are the ones to whom these measures are addressed and it is natural to seek their opinion as well. In this respect, the participants agreed that the study on alternatives to imprisonment to be elaborated in the framework of the RESOC Project should include a recommendation in the sense that alternative measures should also be evaluated taking into account the opinions and attitudes of the sentenced persons.




Alternative measures enforcement in Catalonia

The workshop also benefitted from the participation of the guest speaker Ms Isabel Hernández, Team Coordinator for Barcelona South Alternative Penal Measures Area, Social Rehabilitation Institute (IRES) who spoke about the implication of the civil society in the alternative measures enforcement in Barcelona. In her presentation, Ms Hernández briefed the participants about the activities of the IRES and described the organisation's responsibilities in the area of enforcement of alternative measures.

In Catalonia, the enforcement of alternative measures for sentenced persons has been outsourced to private organisations, which are selected and contracted on the basis of procurement procedures. These organisations are responsible for the enforcement of the measures defined by the court, which might include regular meetings with a social worker, community service, etc. Alternative measures represent a non-custodial sanction but can be replaced by imprisonment if the sentenced person does not comply with them.

logo IRESAccording to Ms Hernández alternative measures have many advantages compared to imprisonment. Persons under alternative measures remain within their own social environment and do not need to face the conditions in prison. Furthermore, alternative measures are cheaper in terms of administration compared to imprisonment. Asked about the advantages and disadvantages of outsourcing alternative measures to private organisations Ms Hernández explained that this is a way to entrust the job to those who have the necessary skills and qualifications to do it. The competitive procurement procedure for awarding the contracts ensures that the best organisations in terms of expertise and professional capacities are assigned with the task of administering these measures.
Ms Hernández paid special attention on the involvement of volunteers in the work of the organisation. She also presented detailed information about the staff of the organisation, the scope of its work and the way its operation is being monitored by the public authorities. She also mentioned some of the problems and difficulties the IRES face in the course of their work on enforcing alternative measures. As the main problem Ms Hernández pointed out the increasing number of sentenced persons sent to the organisation to be placed under alternative measures, which in turn increases the workload of the respective teams of IRES, which are responsible for the enforcement of these measures.