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April 25, 2015

can we learn from the way French judges supervise offenders?

So much is different in the French criminal justice system from the English, starting with their inquisitorial approach to cases.  We could learn from this, but also from the way French judges supervise offenders – an approach outlined by Professor Martine Herzog-Evans and Nicola Padfield in a new report.

Juges de l’application des peines (sentence implementation judges) can release prisoners from prison sentences, grant temporary release, change a prison sentence into a community sentence, deal with breach, and expunge criminal records for released offenders.  The system sounds in many ways excellent, but relies on very different judicial culture and training.  Those who have studied law in France, choose to become a judge as a career.  The judiciary attracts those of a “social work” orientation, who study judge-craft for two years: ” they receive an intense practical schooling, with mandatory internships within their main criminal justice partners’ organisations (police, gendarmes, juvenile justice and protection, criminal lawyers, probation services, and so on) as well as lectures, hypothetical training exercises, and internships with their more experienced colleagues”. Judges acquire a good understanding of desistance and how to support it.  As the authors point out, judges in England and Wales do not get anything near this level of training, and few understand desistance and how it could impact sentencing: “we would argue that sentencers and all those who manage sentences, whether they are magistrates, judges or panels of the Parole Board, should have a very significant understanding of the empirical evidence, of criminological theory, and of the practice of criminal justice”.  This is a tall order, given that current training is subject to cuts and is focussed on law and process, but I totally agree.