Recall to prison in Belgium: Back-end sentencing in search of reintegration

AuthorMarijke Roosen,Kristel Beyens,Lana De Pelecijn,Lars Breuls,Veerle Scheirs
Published date01 March 2020
Date01 March 2020
Subject MatterArticles
Recall to prison in
Belgium: Back-end
sentencing in search
of reintegration
Kristel Beyens , Lars Breuls, Lana De Pelecijn,
Marijke Roosen and Veerle Scheirs
Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium
In recent years, the United States and England and Wales have witnessed growing re-
incarceration rates. This growth is not only due to the courts sending more people to
prison (‘front-end sentencing’), but also due to an increasing number of revocations of
early release measures, mainly following technical violations of licence conditions (so
called ‘back-end sentencing’). However, it is unclear whether the same phenomenon
exists in other (European) countries. Therefore, we empirically studied prison recall
decision-making processes in Belgium by file analysis, complemented with focus
groups with the decision makers involved in the recall process of prisoners with a
sentence of more than three years. We found that the recall process in Belgium is
embedded in a strong narrative of ‘giving chances’ and that all decision makers
deploy a large amount of discretion, which they use to make deliberate decisions in an
attempt to facilitate parolees’ reintegration process. Non-compliance with imposed
conditions does not automatically lead to recall and even when a parolee is sent back
to prison, recall is framed by the decision makers as a step in the reintegration process,
not the end of it.
recall to prison, back-end sentencing, conditional release, social reintegration
Corresponding Author:
Kristel Beyens, Research Group Crime & Society, Department of Criminology, Vrije Universiteit Brussel,
Pleinlaan 2, 1050 Brussels, Belgium.
The Journal of Community and Criminal Justice
Probation Journal
2020, Vol. 67(1) 6–25
ªThe Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0264550519900227
The revocation of early release measures has led to a growing number of re-
incarcerations. For example, in the United States, parole violators accounted for
35%of the total number of prison admissions in 2008, compared to 17%in 1980
(Steen et al., 2012). In England and Wales, there has been a steady growth in the
number of persons being recalled to prison since the 1970s and in 2010 the
number of revoked conditional releases was five times as high as in 2001 (Pad-
field, 2012a). This number has been rising throughout the years. In 2017,
approximately 21,900 persons were recalled to prison in England and Wales
(Fitzalan Howard, 2019).
As technical violations of licence conditions is the most common reason for recall
to prison, increased reoffending of parolees cannot fully account for this sharp rise
(Padfield and Maruna, 2006; Petersilia, 2003; Steen and Opsal, 2007; Steen
et al., 2012). Other explanations refer to how changes in the legal framework and/
or organisational context led to an increased sensitivity of the supervision system to
violations (Reitz, 2004; Weaver et al., 2012) or to the extension of licence
supervision for prison sentences (Fitzalan Howard, 2019). It is argued that legal
and managerial adaptions of the penal system have limited the discretion of actors
in the supervision system, which resulted in more restrictive and risk-based
enforcement practices and even (quasi) automatic recall in case of breach of the
licence conditions (Robinson et al., 2013).
There are however indications that the trends observed in England and Wales
and the United States cannot carelessly be transposed to (all) European countries.
First, differences are observed in revocation rates between countries. According to
the Statistiques P´
enales Annuelles du Conseil de l’Europe (SPACE) statistics, Eng-
land and Wales have the highest number of prison admissions after revocation of a
conditional release or probation in Europe (Aebi and Tiago, 2018) and are thus
rather exceptional. In Germany, for instance, the relative number of recalls has
decreased since the 1970s (Pruin, 2012: 67). Yet, reliable and comparable figures
are often not readily available (Boone and Maguire, 2017; Padfield, 2012b). Also,
in the SPACE statistics, recall figures are missing for a lot of countries (Aebi and
Tiago, 2018). Moreover, to understand (and compare) recall decision-making, in-
depth analysis of daily local practices is required (Padfield, 2012b; Padfield and
Maruna, 2006). This ‘sociology of prisoner recall’ (Padfield and Maruna, 2006)
has only recently started to gain attention and empirical research on back-end
sentencing, that is, the practice of sending people back to prison for violations of
the terms of their parole supervision (Travis, 2007: 631), still remains scarce.
This article presents the results of an in-depth study of the recall process in Bel-
It focuses on the views and rationales of the different actors involved in the
different stages of decision-making: (1) police and/or justice assistants, (2) the
public prosecutor, and (3) the multidisciplinary Sentence Implementation Court.
Belgian justice assistants are equivalent to probation officers and are responsible for
the supervision of licence conditions. Since 1 February 2007, multidisciplinary
Sentence Implementation Courts decide upon the granting and revocation of early
Beyens et al. 7

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT