Criminology, probation and stuff

Some musings on criminology with a focus on probation

Reforms in penal policy lead to higher prison population in Switzerland

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This article: Swiss experts reflect on the recent spike in prison population – swissinfo raises some very interesting issues.

Apparently, the Swiss government passed some reforms which were intended to reduce to the prison population but which appear to have achieved the opposite result. Basically, they abolished prison sentences of less than 6 months and introduced a system of day fines which were calculated based on the offender’s income as well as introducing a form of Unpaid Work. These reforms appear to have led to a classic case of bifurcation where “When judges cannot use short sentences they usually impose alternative sanctions, like day fines, but they may also feel such an approach is inappropriate for the crime and impose a heavier custodial sentence of just over six months.” So, people who might otherwise have got 3 months in prison get either a prison sentence of more than 6 months or ‘just’ a fine.

This is certainly something to bear in mind when thinking about abolishing short prison sentences in England and Wales, as Iain Duncan Smith has suggested here and Frances Crook, of the Howard League suggested here and the Liberal Democrats here (page 2). The Liberal Democrats suggest that short prison sentences would be replaced by ‘more rigorous sentences of public service in the community.  Such sentences would be twice as long and would require real work’. This would, presumably, be done under the auspices of the Probation Service and could possibly indicate a return to the situation of the 1980s where probation was seen as an ‘alternative to custody’ rather than as a sentence in its own right with its own particular aims and goals. It’s also important to note that if short prison sentences were to be abolished and judges restrained themselves from imposing longer sentences to overcome this that the Probation Service would require considerably higher staff levels to cope with the demand for their service.

Another interesting aspect of this story is that of differences between the different Cantons in Switzerland.

“This underlines the bad trend among French-Swiss and Italian-Swiss justice systems to much more willingly lock people away,” said Nicolas Quéloz, professor of penal law and criminology at Fribourg University.

I don’t know anything about the history of how the Swiss jurisdiction came in to being but it is certainly interesting to see that there are cultural differences amongst speakers of the different languages in the country and that these fall in line with the countries with which the regions share a language: France has a prison population of  96 per 100,000, Italy 97 per 100,000 and Germany 90 per 100,000 (see here for Europe wide prison populations). Just out of interest, England and Wales imprisons 153 per 100,000.

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Written by criminologyandstuff

January 27, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Posted in criminal justice

One Response

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  1. […] Reforms in penal policy lead to higher prison population in Switzerland Apparently, the Swiss government passed some reforms which were intended to reduce to the prison population but which appear to have achieved the opposite result. (Criminology and stuff, 27.01.2010) […]


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