11- The Study group of recidivism in Europe has been established in September 2005 by Pierre V. Tournier (CNRS University of Paris 1.) et Patrick Colin (University of Strasbourg 2.). It is supported by two academic institutions, the Centre for social history of the twentieth century, CNRS (University of Paris 1, Panthéon Sorbonne) and the Laboratory Cultures et Sociétés en Europe, UMR 7043, CNRS (University Marc Bloch of Strasbourg 2). The Study group wants to share a scientific approach on reoffending with researchers as well as with personnel working in prisons, lawyers and magistrates, health workers and all persons with competences in this field. The question of the individualisation of sanctions is at the very centre of the group's preoccupations. The activities of the Study group are supported by the Service for readmission and probation of the Paris Penitentiary Administration and by the French Association of Criminology (AFC). As its name indicates, the aim of the Study group is to work on a European level. A first step was to start cooperation with European colleagues (Belgium, Germany, Netherlands and Switzerland) and to organise panels at the Tübingen Conference of the European Society of Criminology 1
22- The Study group was established when the debates on the legislative project called “the law Clement” (due to the name of the French Minister of Justice) related to the treatment of reoffending were in full swing in the French Parliament. At the same time two large scale studies were being published in France.
33- These studies had been conducted by Annie Kensey and Pierre V. Tournier2. These were follow-up studies, presenting a complete overview of the risks of reoffending for sentenced people leaving prison as well as for sentenced people serving alternative sanctions. By examining the judiciary records of sentenced people 5 years after a release from prison, and 5 years after the imposition of an alternative sanction, it has been possible to evaluate the proportion of those having at least one new record in the penal registry (whatever the new offences or the new sanctions). It may be called a rate of reconviction. Other criteria have been used by taking into account convictions of a certain gravity.
44- Despite their dissemination, these researches have not been taken into consideration in the parliamentary work leading to the final adoption, by the National Assembly, on 4 November 2005, of the law related to the Treatment of reoffending (traitement de la récidive des infractions pénales). Leftwing deputees were opposed to the new law. This vote closed two years of debates initiated by Nicolas Sarkozy. As minister of the Interior (Home affairs) he defended the American idea of fixed penalties: in case of multiple reoffending, judges would have a very limited latitude in the choice of sanction due to the impossibility to go beyond a certain limit. The minister of justice, Dominique Perben, was opposed to this proposal, contrary to the idea of individualized penalties, and most probably contrary to the constitution. A parliamentary mission was created in March 2004, headed by Pascal Clement, at that time president of the law commission. In the meantime, he had become Minister of Justice and defended the law.
55- The law contains a great number of measures which increase the repression on “reoffenders”. However, the main innovation is the introduction of mobile electronic monitoring, a security measure which may be imposed in the probation period (the so called socio-judicial follow-up period) or following a conditional release from prison. The person must be an adult, have been sentenced to an imprisonment of 7 years or more, and his dangerousness must have been assessed by medical expertise. The placement may last for up to two years, renewable once for serious offences, twice for the most serious crimes. The mobile electronic monitoring is a device which works on the base of a GPS; it allows the localization of a sentenced person at any moment on the entire national territory. To that end, the person is forced to carry a transmitter.
66- In June 2005, a number of people have made the proposal to create an observatory of reoffending which would have had the following tasks:
centralize all available data on reoffending, disseminate it and keep the data records up to date,
develop educational material which allows for a synthetic presentation of the most important information based on the data records in order to inform a large public on those issues,
build a monitoring system on cases of reoffending which justify, due to their seriousness and to media attention, a rapid dissemination of objective information. The monitoring of these cases should be pursued even after the period of attention by the media and politics has subsided,
help to build training programs on the subject in schools depending from the Ministry of Justice,
participate in the elaboration of new statistical instruments at the hands of the Ministry of Justice, with a view to insure a regular production on the subject,
mobilise the scientific community, in its large diversity, on the problem in order to contribute new research in this field,
facilitate cooperation with European partners,
disseminate an annual report providing information on advances on all objectives set forth above, a report in which could be introduced recommendations which would help to improve the treatment of reoffenders.
77- Despite a large unity for this project, despite the support from political parties, left and right, represented at the National Assembly, the Minister of Justice opposed the law which proposed the creation of the observatory. He preferred to set up a commission on the follow-up and the analysis of reoffending, for the working of which very few resources were provided. Monitoring closely the activities of this commission which hasn’t progressed much, the Study group will continue to argue for the creation of an Observatory of reoffending in France which would take stock of experiences and best practices in foreign countries.
8- Besides its mobilizing work to further the comprehension of the process of reoffending, the Study group, being linked to the University, proposes an approach of the problems taking into account methodological aspects and critical epistemology. The formulation of the problems to be studied is not neutral as it is dependant on the approach chosen and the value sets implied. This can be evidenced by the terminology used in researches since notions of conviction, sanction and reoffending do not have the same meaning in the different European languages, and even less in the context of the penal system. Equally, the methods applied to the construction of the facts should be judged with regard to their context of use and their limits. Finally, it’s the interpretations of frequencies and tendencies, even of the common and scientific representations involved, which should be the objects of critical and historical analyses.