The bill concerning the strengthening of the effectiveness of criminal penalties, which the National Assembly began examining on 3 June, provides for the abolition of minimum sentences, the creation of a new mandatory sentence in open custody, "the term of probation", and intends to prevent "dry releases" from prison.
The objective of the reform is to more effectively punish by adapting the sentence to each offender in order to better prevent repeat offences. Indeed, between 2002 and 2012, criminal law was modified more than sixty times. However, the reconviction rate more than doubled between 2001 and 2011, increasing from 4.9% to 12.1%. This is why four key measures have been proposed.
1. Individualisation of sentences
Sentences and their procedure for enforcement should respond to the gravity of the acts sanctioned and be adapted to the offender's situation.
The aim is to better address the risk of repeat offending and to encourage the rehabilitation of the convicted person. To be effective and meaningful for the convicted person, the sentence must be passed with full knowledge of the facts, the judge must have the means to determine the offender's personality, their environment and their social situation. In concrete terms, it is a question of considering the risks of repeat offending and the factors encouraging offenders to turn away from crime.
The penal reform repeals the automatic processes that prevent judges from passing an individualised sentence.
Open prison sentences encourage the rehabilitation of the convicted person
2. A new sentence: the term of probation
The term of probation is neither imprisonment nor a suspended sentences with probation, but imposes a set of obligations and prohibitions on the convicted person as well as ongoing support for a duration of up to 5 years. The term of probation is immediately implemented as soon as the sentence is passed.
How is it applied?
The term of probation enables reinforced supervision and follow-up. It primarily concerns persons convicted with suspended prison sentences and probation (who therefore do not go to prison) or those convicted for crimes subject to a prison sentence of 5 years of less (theft, vandalism, contempt, traffic offences, assault, etc.) and not the more serious offences (rape, armed robbery, murder, etc.). As such, it only concerns offenders and not criminals.
The term of probation will apply to all crimes punished by a prison sentence of 5 years or less, until 2017, before being extended to other crimes. A review of the application of this law is scheduled at the end of a two-year period.
This new sentence will be immediately served, unlike prison sentences which are often delayed by several months.
It is the judge responsible for the execution of sentences who will set the content of the term, which will include a prohibition component (of visiting certain places, of meeting certain people, etc.), and a constructive component (care programme, vocational integration programme, etc.). If the convicted person commits another offence during the term of probation, or if they do not comply with the measures and the follow-up ordered by the judge responsible for the execution of sentences, the latter may refer to a deputy of the presiding judge to order their imprisonment.
The penal reform will reinforce the follow-up that may be carried out by the police and gendarme services of the obligations and the prohibitions imposed on the convicted person.
3. Conditional release
Preparing release from prison. Regardless of the duration of the prison sentence passed and served, release from prison is always a decisive step. The conditions in which this takes place strongly influence the risk of repeat offending.Sentence adjustments encourage the rehabilitation of the convicted person and avoid the risk of these persons becoming rooted in crime.
The role of the judge.It is the judge who understands how the end of the sentence is carried out. In order to greatly reduce the number of "dry releases", the penal reforms provides for the possibility of including a period of preparation for release in the framework of the execution of the sentence. Firstly, it sets an obligatory judicial meeting towards the end of the sentence. This examination of the prisoner's situation will be systematic (and not conditional release). Following this examination, the judge may pass a decision of conditional release or decide on continued detention. He may attach his decision to strengthened provisions.
Reinforced follow-up and obligations.If the judge so decides, the convicted person will complete their sentence in open custody. They will be subject to strengthened supervision by the rehabilitation and probation department and, in this case, will be placed under electronic surveillance, in day parole or work release.
4. Improving victims' rights
The penal reform, as well as public policy on victim support in its entirety, improves the rights of victims: information, hearings in court, compensation, support and assistance.
Victims' rights will be better taken into account throughout the execution of the sentence: the right to obtain compensation for the harm incurred, the right to be informed, if they so wish, of the convicted person's future, and the right to protection. The judge must guarantee these rights
Support for victim support associations. Since 1983, France has had a network of victim support associations across the country supported by the Ministry of Justice and other local and national partners. These associations received nearly 300,000 people in 2012 to provide information on their rights and procedures, and to offer a personalised listening and support service.
The creation of a 10% "surcharge" to finance victim support associations. This will apply to criminal and customs fines, as well as the financial penalties imposed notably by the French Financial Markets Authority and the Online Gambling Regulatory Authority.
A national procedure has been launched to enable the "Téléphone très grand danger" mobile alert service for women who are victims of violence to be extended to the entire country.
The broadening of victim support offices. The victim support offices were created in order to offer a reception, listening and information service within courts. It is a single point of service where victims can find information, support and guidance, from the moment the complaint is filed to the execution of the judge's decision. The Minister of Justice decided to extend these to all regional courts in 2014, with 100 new offices opened in 2013.
A forum for discussion with civil society. The National Council for Victim Support, created in 1999, is once again actively involved in the work undertaken by the Ministry of Justice. It was consulted on three occasions on the works of the Consensus Conference on the prevention of repeat offending and on the penal reform project.
Strengthening of means
The draft Budget Bill for 2014 has already provided for considerable efforts to implement the penal reform. In concrete terms, these efforts are as follows:
- 25% increase in the staff within the rehabilitation and probation department (recruitment of 1,000 advisors by 2017, including 400 as of 2014),
- in 2013, appointment of 30 judges responsible for the execution of sentences and the creation of 19 deputy public prosecutors responsible for the enforcement of sentences,
- in 2014, creation of 40 positions in the office of the clerk of the court and 10 positions for judges responsible for the execution of sentences,
- creation of 6,500 additional prison places by 2017. 530 were already opened up in 2013 and 1,200 will follow in 2014.
9 October 2013: presentation of the draft law to the Council of Ministers
31 March 2014: launch of the Commission for the rewriting of sentencing law
3 June 2014: start of discussions in the National Assembly