Academic journal article Law and Contemporary Problems

Exploring Probation Supervision Compliance in the Netherlands

Academic journal article Law and Contemporary Problems

Exploring Probation Supervision Compliance in the Netherlands

Article excerpt

I

INTRODUCTION

In many Western countries offenders can be placed under probation supervision. While supervised, they avoid incarceration and, instead, can stay in the community. Offenders are expected to benefit more from supervision in the community than incarceration, as they avoid the stigmatizing labels of being imprisoned whilst benefiting from the conditions attached to the supervision, which are means to influence the probationer's behavior to avoid future offending. (1) In some countries, such as the United States, probation supervision is considered an alternative sanction, (2) while in others, such as the United Kingdom, supervision forms a requirement of suspended sentences. (3) In the Netherlands, similar to the United Kingdom, probation supervision is a legal requirement of various suspension modalities, such as suspended sentences, suspension of pre-trial detention under conditions, detention under hospital orders with conditions, and conditional early release from prison.

Yet, while probation supervision is increasingly imposed, (4) its effectiveness remains debatable. (5) Studies have shown high failure rates in probation (6) and there is little evidence that it reduces recidivism. (7) Furthermore, in a previous study by the author it was concluded that offenders had an increased chance of recidivating when special conditions were attached to the probation supervision, suggesting little support for the idea that probation supervision can influence offending behavior. (8) Insight is needed into factors that may affect probation supervision compliance for two reasons. First, probation supervision failure is expected to be a significant predictor of recidivism. (9) Second, probation supervision relies far more on offenders' compliant behavior to make it work compared to custodial sanctions. (10) As Bottoms puts it: "effectiveness and compliance are, in the field of community penalties, topics that are inextricably linked." (11) This paper focuses specifically on offenders given suspended sentences with probation supervision in the Netherlands and explores what factors are related to probation supervision compliance.

What are offenders' motivations to comply with the conditions of their probation supervision? Strategies can often be divided into surveillance or control-oriented supervision and treatment-oriented supervision, (12) which are also the strategies Dutch probation officers adhere to, as will be discussed in more detail below. These supervision strategies, and their application in the Netherlands, are the central focus of the paper. With regard to the first type of supervision--surveillance--one of the approaches often used for securing probation supervision compliance is the presence of sanction threats. (13) If offenders do not comply with the conditions of their probation supervision, their case gets revoked. This instrumental perspective is also known as deterrence theory: social control mechanisms and the risk of sanction aim to persuade the rational-choice offender that offending is not worth the risk as the benefits of compliance outweigh the costs of punishment. (14) It is expected that the benefit of complying with the conditions of their probation supervision is likely to outweigh the cost of the prison sentence hanging over their heads.

An important aspect of the second type of supervision, treatment-oriented supervision, is the support and guidance the probation officer offers to the probationer. (15) It is important to examine the relationship between probation officer and probationer because, as Taxman states,

"Supervision services are built on the framework that 'contacts,' or the relationship between the offender and the supervision agent, are the cornerstone to managing and/or changing offender behavior." (16) In psychotherapy, the quality of the relationship between a therapist and patient is found to be one of the most important predictors of a successful treatment outcome. …

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