20th Council of Europe Conference of Directors of Prison and Probation Services, Bucharest 9-10 June 2015
In June, Claudia Vogg and I had the privilege to attend the 20th Council of Europe Conference of Directors of Prison and Probation Services in Bucharest. The conference was attended by senior representatives from the Council’s committees such as the Council for the Prevention of Torture, European Committee on Crime Problems and the Council for Penological Co-operation (responsible for organising the conference); EuroPris; Prison & Probation Services and Justice departments from 35 member states; delegates from the Holy See, North America, Algeria, Jordan and Tunisia; and international academic experts. COPE had been invited to present parallel sessions (in English and French) on the final afternoon of the conference but we attended throughout as full conference participants, giving us unique access to senior officials over the 2 days. COPE was the only NGO present in this capacity and it was a real marker of our standing at a European strategic level. Whilst the primary conference focus was on combating the threat of radicalisation in prisons, common themes came through such as the dangers of prison over-crowding, poorly trained and de-motivated prison staff and lack of purposeful activity for prisoners—many of which are also central to fostering quality contact between prisoners and their children. It was inspiring to hear from relatively new democracies such as Romania and other countries that are striving to change the culture in their prisons and invest heavily in training their staff, minimising the use of imprisonment and maximising the opportunities presented, for example by enabling prisoners to use IT—including for things such as Skype visits and email.
In delivering his closing speech to the conference, Jan Kleijssen, Director of Information Society and Action against Crime, Directorate General of Human Rights and Rule of Law, Council of Europe (and member of the conference organising committee) highlighted children of prisoners as one of two issues requiring more detailed exploration in 2016, commenting on the “powerful and moving presentation” he had attended. It is our sincere hope that the Committee will follow his recommendation and that children of prisoners will indeed by a focus for next year’s conference.