Distinction or Exit : The Upper Echelons of the Probation Services Caught Between Institutional Vagueness and Personal Dissatisfaction

by Xavier de Larminat – november 2014

 

Xavier de Larminat is a post-doctoral student at Brussels’ Saint-Louis University. This paper describes some findings of a research project funded by the CESDIP, on the upperechelon staff of French probation departments.

 

The penal reform, with the introduction of the so-called contrainte pénale, has recently drawn attention to probationary sentences. Over and beyond debate over the legal contours of the various measures served within the community (including suspended imprisonment with probation, community service work, release on parole, and electronic monitoring), it is important to examine their implementation. The term ‘probation’, despite significant differences in sentencing and implementation modes, is used here to designate all sentences involving no imprisonment but rather, requiring some form of community-based monitoring and support. They differ, then, from both custodial sentences and from those with no supervision, such as simple suspended imprisonment or fines. These coercive measures within the community are implemented by the correctional rehabilitation and probation services (Services pénitentiaires d’insertion et de probation – SPIP). These units were merged at the département level in 1999, and represent one element of the corrections administration, over and beyond its management of custodial facilities.

In the wake of a research project on rehabilitation and probation counselors (Conseillers pénitentiaires d’insertion et de probation) focused on the restructuring of tools for their monitoring and support work with sentenced offenders1, the present study examines the situation of the upper-echelon staff within these probation services. In a context where “modernization” revolves around both managerial and criminological approaches, we may postulate that the brunt of adjustment to the reforms is borne by senior probation officers, owing to their hierarchical position as go-betweens. They are not the ones who designed the reforms, at the Corrections Administration head offices, nor are they in direct contact with the offenders, in implementing them. Rather, they are “transmitters” who have some leeway for interpreting them according to both their own inclinations and the constraints imposed by their position within the institution.

Since the reform of the staffing regulations of January 1, 2011, the senior staff may have one of three different statuses : Directeurs fonctionnels de service pénitentiaire d’insertion et de probation (DFSPIP), who head each department, Directeurs pénitentiaires d’insertion et de probation (DPIP) and Chefs de service d’insertion et de probation (CSIP), both of whom represent the intermediate supervisory echelon in each department (the former will ultimately absorb the latter category, which is to become extinct). The numbers of these intermediate-level managers are presently expanding, rising from about 70 to over 300 over the last decade. The present paper analyzes the ability of all these senior managers to gain distinction through the possibility of upward mobility open to a handful, while emphasizing the frequent prospect of exit, since a noteworthy proportion consider leaving the Corrections Administration.

 

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