News

15 Mar 2016

Offender supervision is not experienced as a “soft option”, Europe-wide research project finds

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Offender Supervision in Europe, the COST Action chaired by the SCCJR’s Professor Fergus McNeill, has produced its final report following a major conference in Brussels.

The Action spanned 23 European countries and its three working groups boasted a total of 64 active participants, whose collective expertise encompassed criminal justice, criminology, law, psychology, social work and sociology.

Much of the Action’s was conceptual, exploratory and qualitative in character. Work by other academics has found that the numbers of people subject to offender supervision have grown significantly in almost all European jurisdictions in recent years, and that this has not led to a reduction in the use of imprisonment.

supervisibleThe Action found that “Despite public perceptions of supervisory sanctions as ‘soft options’, a more recent strand of research suggests that supervision can often be painful in a variety of ways.”

It carried out a pilot study that asked people with experience of being supervised to represent their experiences in photographs, and found these “most commonly reflected themes of constraint, losing time, waste and of being judged or condemned.”

The report says of the photographs produced: “While supervision has many diverse forms, they share an immanent, pervasive quality in which people are made subject to life-altering and freedom-limiting conditions and live under the constant threat of further (worse) sanctions being imposed should they be judged as somehow ‘failing’.”

Fergus on Scotland 2016Professor McNeill appeared on the BBC’s Scotland 2016 to discuss issues arising from the Action’s work. He said: “Rather than supervision in the community diverting people from prison, it seems as if we’ve drawn people into the criminal justice system or under its supervision – people who in previous decades might have been dealt with through financial penalties or other, lesser sanctions.”

“What’s happening is that crime is falling, the number of cases coming before the courts has fallen, and yet the number of people being swept into a system of penal control is rising. That’s inefficient, because these sanctions cost a significant amount of money to administer; it’s not necessarily effective, unless the sanctions (both imprisonment and supervisory sanctions) are administered carefully and properly; and the more that you draw into these systems, the harder it is for those who administer these sanctions to do so well.”

You can view Fergus’s Scotland 2016 appearance on YouTube, and read more about the offender supervision statistics for Scotland in The Herald.