Rehabilitation of foreign inmates in the EU: cooperation and mutual trust are key José Santos December 23, 2022

Rehabilitation of foreign inmates in the EU: cooperation and mutual trust are key

Several challenges related to foreign prisoners gave rise to a new European project directed towards a more informed and efficient implementation of Framework Decision (FD) 2008/909/JHA. This legal instrument entails the application of the principle of mutual recognition, across the E.U., of judgments imposing custodial sentences or measures involving deprivation of liberty.

The creation of the European Union (EU), and the Schengen Area in particular, allowed for the free movement of individuals within the European territory. Simultaneously, however, it opened the door for the circulation of foreigners and, with it, the possibility for sentencing said foreigners in the different EU Member States. As such, cross-border execution of judgements involving the deprivation of liberty has been an ever more frequent reality within the EU.

According to the Council of Europe’s annual penal statistics – the SPACE I (custody) and SPACE II (community sanctions and measures) reports of 2021 – around 15% of the prison population in Europe is composed of persons convicted outside their country of origin or their place of permanent residence, i.e. foreigners.

To tackle the issues stemming from a conviction and corresponding execution in a foreign country, and with the prime objective of ensuring a more humane rehabilitation and reintegration process, the Council of the European Union issued the Framework Decision (FD) 2008/909/JHA, of 27 November 2008, on the application of the principle of mutual recognition to judgments in criminal matters imposing custodial sentences or measures involving deprivation of liberty for the purpose of their enforcement in the EU.

FD 2008/909 was envisioned to create a faster and more efficient way to recognise criminal sentences involving prison and the deprivation of liberty across EU jurisdictions. It relied on the principles of mutual recognition and mutual trust.

However, despite it being transposed into the EU Member States’ legal systems, its application has been shy from null. Reasons, e.g. difficulties in filling out the required certificates, lack of knowledge regarding judicial and legal traditions around Europe, minute awareness regarding the existence of the instrument, lack of trust, criticisms regarding its drafting and the non-inclusion of the consent of the convicted individual, have all been linked to this phenomenon.

Inserted within the European Commission’s Justice Programme, the newly funded REUNION project – Rehabilitation of foreign inmates within the scope of FD 2008/909/JHA – is directed at creating the necessary tools to tackle this problem.

With its 24-month duration, and envisioned for partitioners from all stages of the proceedings and execution linked to a criminal sentence (i.e. Judges, Prosecutors, Lawyers and prison staff), the project focuses on an awareness-raising approach while also developing functional materials to facilitate the execution of the Framework Decision.

By fostering closer cooperation between Member States and looking at ensuring a better knowledge of the aforementioned practitioners, REUNION sets out three main objectives, ultimately advocating for a more efficient and humane rehabilitation process, guaranteeing inmates’ fundamental rights.

In a nutshell, the project aims to establish the preliminary work for adequately supporting practitioners when dealing with FD 909; to contribute to originating, updating and broadening knowledge among the target groups; and to create distance-based and sustainable training programmes on the effective application of the FD.

Know more about this project


Rehabilitation of foreign inmates within the scope of FD 2008/909/JHA


The REUNION project is led by the Court of Supervision of Venice in Italy and is partnered by the University of Applied Sciences for Public Administration Rhineland-Palatinate (Germany), IPS_Innovative Prison Systems (Portugal), Loyola University Andalusia (Spain), European Strategies Consulting (Romania), National School of Judiciary and Public Prosecution (Poland), Baia Mare Penitentiary (Romania), and AGENFOR International (Italy).

Check out the REUNION project page for more information.

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