Evaluating French Sentencing Reform: The 2014 Consensus Commission for a New Public Policy For the Prevention of Recidivism

Abstract

Upon his election in 2012 and facing a growing prison population rate and recidivism rate, French President François Hollande called for a Consensus Commission to create new policy recommendations in order to help improve the conditions of the criminal justice system. The Consensus Commission, which consisted of a variety of criminal justice actors, stakeholders, and academics, came up with five main policy objectives, which included the creation of a new sentencing method of probation, as well as a reevaluation of risk assessment strategies and processes of sentence execution. The Commission’s findings were released in a 2013 report which was widely available to the public. ​Hollande then tasked his liberal-leaning Minister of Justice, Christiane Taubira, and his traditionalist Minister of the Interior, Manuel Valls, to lead the legislative battle to implement these findings into law. Over the course of 2013 and early 2014, the French parliament debated and drafted the law which ultimately came to be known as the Law of August 15, 2014: Individualizing Sentences to Reinforce the Effectiveness of Punishment. Lawmakers implemented many of the suggestions of the Consensus Commission, establishing probation, known as contrainte pénale, and supervised parole releases, known as libération sous contraintee, as new tools for French judges who had been bound by strict mandatory minimum and repeat offender laws passed during the previous presidential administration of Nicolas Sarkozy. In order to pass these provisions, however, concessions were made, particularly in fortification of victims’ rights through a bolstered Victim Aid Bureau and widespread funding for restorative justice practices.

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