Runaway children in Valais: widening the courses of action. Editorial, by Clara Balestra of the Sarah Oberson Foundation.

On the 25th of May, many countries are taking a moment to remember missing children. The following is an editorial from Clara Balestra of the Sarah Oberson Foundation.

Intervention by Philip D. Jaffé, during the Soirée Sarah Oberson 2013: "From Lucy to Mary: from zero risk to the obligation of rehabilitation."

By Clara Balestra

There is a small number of people who have committed serious offenses, such as rape or murder, who cannot be released as they represent a permanent threat to society. For the last 30 years the question has remained the same: how to identify them ? Scientific knowledge in this field is moving on, as much as in practice, however, the latter much slower.

The current scientific consensus favors a clinical evaluation complemented by an actuarial valuation (statistics) of the dangerousness of an inmate. The clinical evaluation must be performed by a qualified expert, that is to say trained during several years in the practice of the penitentiary system and under constant supervision.

The actuarial dimension of the evaluation is based on significant scientific research, which has highlighted certain criteria, which appear to influence the dangerousness of an inmate. Pre-established questionnaires (e.g. DRAG, HCR-20, PCL-R) take up to 150 criteria into account and determine a final score, which indicates the probability of dangerousness of the inmate.

In French-speaking Switzerland, the combination of clinical and statistical evaluations is increasingly being used. On the other hand, the clinical evaluation stays predominant in the rest of Switzerland and the lack of qualified experts is being felt.

However, the decision granting release is not just a clinical or statistical matter. It is also based on a social consensus. Psychiatrists can significantly contribute to determine people whose dangerousness remains high, but they are not alone. There are numerous people and trades involved in the decision making process. According to Mr. Jaffé, in Switzerland, the decision-making chain as well as its organization and its governing legal provisions are sometimes dysfunctional and should be upgraded.

Recent developments in the U.S. and in Canada do not only focus on the person's dangerousness. Work is also focused on risk management, meaning the evaluation of the structure that will surround the prisoner outside the prison institution. An interdisciplinary team is currently working on this matter under the guidance of an experienced project manager.

To conclude, it is important to note that the suppression of parole or any other form of early release is not a violation of the inmate's individual rights, but only the end of a privilege for a person sentenced to a penalty of deprivation of liberty by a legitimate court. The burden of proof of good behavior is also the inmate's responsibility.

Disclaimer: The editorial does not necessarily reflect the opinion of IDE Board and Team.

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