No. X (1983)

The effectiveness of protective supervision (results of a stud of 232 habitual criminals put under protective supersivion)

Irena Rzeplińska
Institute of State and Law of the Polish Academy of Sciences

Published 1983-05-02


  • protective supervision,
  • recidivist,
  • resocialization,
  • Penal Code,
  • recidivism

How to Cite

Rzeplińska, I. (1983). The effectiveness of protective supervision (results of a stud of 232 habitual criminals put under protective supersivion). Archives of Criminology, (X), 55–85.


   1.The 1969 Penal Code introduced a new system of sanctions for offences committed by habitual criminals in special circumstances. Two new categories of special recidivism are here introduced: special basic recidivism (Art. 60, § 1 of the Penal Code), and special multi-recidivism (Art. 60, § 2 of the Penal Code). The legal consequences of a conviction under Art. 60, § 1 or § 2 are as follows: 1) longer terms of imprisonment, 2)the application of special measures: protective supervison and commitment to a social readaptation centre, These measures take effect after the prison sentence has been served.

      Under the protective supervision system, the habitual offender is free, but supervised for a period of 3-5 years.

     The readaptation centre is a closed institution. The habitual offender is sent there for a minimum period of two years, up to a maximum of five years.  After two years the penitentiary court may free the recidivist if it thinks he is unlikely to commit another crime after regaining his freedom.

      The conditions under which a  person is  sent to a readaptation centre differ, according to whether he or she was sentenced under Art. 60,  §1 or  Art. 60, § 2 of the Penal Code. A recidivist may be sent to a readaptation centre by either the  criminal court or the penitentiary courts. The decision to apply these measures may be taken at diverse stages of the juridical and penitentiary process: 1) when the sentence is pronounced (by the criminal court), 2) towards the end of the prison sentence (penitentiary court), or 3) during the period of protective supervision (penitentiary court).

     In the first of the three stages mentioned above, the recidivist senrenced under Art. 60,  § 1 of the Penal Code may or may not be put under protective supervison. It is not obligatory. In the case of a person sentenced under   § 2 of Art. 60 of  the Penal Code, it is obligatory either to put him under protecive supervision or to send him to a social readaptation centre. The decision to send a recidivist to a social readaptation centre (a more severe measure) is taken only if the court is of the opinion that protective supervision would be insufficient io prevent a return to crime.

        In the second of the three stages mentioned above, towards the end of the recidivists's sentence the penitentiary court takes the following decisions: 1) it may put the habitual criminal under protective supervision if that was not done in the sentence of the criminal court; 2) it may alter the decision of the criminal court and put  the offender under a protective supervision order instead of sending  him to a social readaptation centre.

      The third and last stage in which decisions are taken about the application of special measures, is when the offender is actually under the supervision of a Probation Officer. If the supervision is not working out satisfactorily, the recidivist may be sent to a social readaptation centre.

       2.The habitual offender is supervised by a Probation Officer after he has served his prison sentence. No person who is under protective supervision may change his place of residence without the consent of the court. He is obliged to appear in court if summoned, and to carry out the court's recommendations (Art. 63 of the Penal Code).

      The court may order the recidivists:  1. to perform an obligation incumbent on the sentenced person to provide support for another person;  2. to perform specified work for a social purpose; 3. to perform remunerated work, pursuing an education or preparing for an occupation; 4. to refrain from abusing alcohol; 5. to submit to medical treatment; 6. to refrain from frequenting specified surroundings or places; 7. other appropriated behaviour in the period of protective supervision, if it may prevent the commission again of an offense.

        During the protective supervision period, the court may issue orders, or extend or alter those already given.

     During the protective supervision period the recidivist comes under the supervision of a Probation Officer appointed by the court, who at the same time is responsible for organizing the resocialization of the person being supervised.

      Protective supervision ceases: 1 when the appointed period of probation is at an end, and when probation has been successful, 2) Or aerlier, if the person being supervised fails to carry out the orders and obligations placed on him, or if he makes it impossible or difficult for the purpose of the protective supervison order to be attained (e.g. by committing a crime when under supervision, which means that the supervision was unsuccessful, 3) owing to causes which bring supervision to an end (e.g. death of the supervised person).

       3. The study reported here dealt with one of the two special measures mentioned above - protective supervision. The main problem examined is the effectiveness of protective supervision.

      Protective supervision is a system which has two goals: one is to keep the supervised person from committing another crime (here we may speak of the restraining function of supervision), while the other is to resocialise the person on supervision (in this case we may speak of the resocialising function of probation).

        The key question asked by anyone who examines the effectiveness of some penal measure is: whether, and to what extent,  does it attain its aims? With this definition in mind, the effectiveness of probation was examined in two fields. In the first (narrower) field, the author asked if there had been a juridical improvement in the behaviour of persons put under supervision. In the second (wider) field, success was measured by the extent of the supervised persons resocialisation - that is, an attempt was made to find out how the supervised person functioned in society, that is, whether  he kept to the basic social norms that society expects,of its members. In both fields, the moment of time when effectiveness of supervision was assessed was that at which supervision ceased. Those who successfully completed their period of probation were checked again at the end of 38 months, to see whether or not they had reverted to crime.

        The group studied here consisted of all male recidivists in Warsaw who were put under a protective supervision order in 1971-1972. There were 232 persons in the group.

          Two research techniques were used. ln the first, the relevant documents were studied (documents concerning previous criminal caces, prison documents, records of the course of protective supervision, data, about previous convictions, as well as about periods spent in penal institutions and in remand). In the second, the recidivist was interviewed on the basis of a questionnaire.

        4. Out of the 232 persons investigated, 43.1 %  completed the supervision period successfully, 53.3%  failed to do so, and in 3.4% of the cases death intervened.

        In this group of recidivists who had been put under supervision the author differentiated three groups:

         Group I - taken as having been resocialised during the supervision period, and as having successfully completed their supervision. This group consisted of 57 men (26% of the total number studied).

         Group II – regarded as not having been resocialised, but that completed the probation period successfully, without ill consequences for themselves. Group II consisted of 43 men (19% of the total).

        Group III,  consisting of men who were not resocialised, and who as a result  suffered the additional ill effect of being isolated in the social readaptation centre; this group failed to complete their supervision successfully. In this group were 124 men (55%  of the total).

       Some of the unresocialised men in Group III did not carry out any of the duties or orders given them. Some reverted to crime even although for a time they carried out their duties and orders. Some did not carry out their duties and orders, and reverted to crime. In this group the supervision system failed to fulfil the functions expected of it. With regard to those who did not carry out their obligations and orders it failed in its resocialisation function, while with regard to the others, who committed a crime while under supervision, it failed in both its functions: restraint and resocialisation.

  1. The following characteristics were found in Groups I, II and III.

       Group  I consisted mostly of the youngest men (only one-eighth of the group were over 40). They were educated at least up to elementary school standard (approx. age 14-15). During the probation period they carried out work that called for skills. They were physically healthy. In their case  the supervision period was one in which their lives were financially more stable (they had paid jobs). They also had stable family lives, and started their own a families. Of all the groups, they had the fewest convictions up to the time the probation period began. They had mainly committed offences against property, but a significant number had been gauilty of crimes of a predominantly aggressive nature. Drunkenness was not noted among them during the supervision period. The men in this group declared that after they had come out of prison and been put under protective supervision they had no special trouble in beginning life again in freedom. They also said they were pleased with life.

     Group  II consisted of men who, judged from the formal point of view, completed their supervision period successfully. But their behaviour during supervision, and above all their heavy drinking, does not justify us in regarding them as having been resocialised. These were habitual criminals  who when put under supervision were older (mostly over the age of thirty), as compared witn the men in Group I. As many as a quarter of the men in Group  II were habitual criminals aged forty and over. Compared with the men in Group I, they were less well educated, and worse qualified for jobs. Among them various types  of physical complaints were found, possibly because they were older, and possibly also because they had a longer career of crime. Fewer of them were married. They seemed to make little effort to achieve financial stability. During the supervision period they frequently changed their job - often because of some infringement of discipline, or because they arbitrarily threw up their job. When they began probation, they had more convictions behind them than the men in Group I. Group II had the lowest number of men who had committed serious crimes against property, or serious aggressive crimes. They were guilty mostly of petty crimes.  Above all the habitual criminals in this group are the most awkward ones from the social point of view. They were the ones  who mostly said they were dissatisfied with their lives. While on supervision they did not give up heavy drinking. Moreover, although ordered to take a "drying-out" cure , they did not go for treatment at all, or did so irregularly. Before their conviction they had worked irregularly, with gaps in between jobs, but during the whole supervision period they worked.

            Groups III: protective supervision was a failure with group. As compared with the other groups the men in this one had more previous convictions - the average number of previous convictions being nearly six. More of them, as compared with the men in the other groups, went in mainly for crimes against property; the minority went in for crimes of a predominantly aggressive character and crimes of diverse types. Half of the men in Group II came into the 21-30 age group when ,they began supervision, while the other half were older (moreover, one-seventh were habitual criminals aged over forty). Even at the beginning of supervision the men in this group were in a worse situation than the others - especially as compared with the men in Group II, for they were worse educated, and worse prepared for earning living. The majority of the men in this group were single. Only one in five was married. Their health was noticeably poorer than that of the men in the other groups. Most of the men in this group drank heavilly during the supervision period. The men here confessed that immediately after getting out of prison they had trouble in getting back to a normal life. The main obstacles were lack of money,  and the difficulty in finding a job. When questioned they said that on the whole they were not happy about their lives. The majority (72.6%) had reverted to crime while on supervision. The others had been taken out of supervision because they did not carry out their obligations ot the orders or the probation officer.

        6. In this study of men put under protective supervision, one in every four is reckoned to have been a success. it was noted that during the supervision period factors that made for success were: setting up a family, having a regular skilled job, and avoidance of heavy drinking.   

         In view of the above, it is the youngest habitual criminals who have the best chance of completing their supervision period successfultry. Age is in their favour, they have a better chance of a stable family life, they are better educated, better fitted for a job, they do not show the symptoms of social degradation associated with alcoholism, Because of these factors they are more likely to be able to return to a normal life.

       7. During a period of 38 months from the end of the each man's supervision period, a check was kept on whether or not these men had further convictions. The men covered by this part of the study were those in Groups I and II, that is, those who successfully completed their probation.

       Thirteen men from Group I and twelve men from Group II (that is, twenty-five men altogether), had subsequent convictions. They constituted 25% of the two groups. It may therefore be stated that the majority (three-quarters) of the men in Groups I and II had no convictions during the thirty-eight months following the end of their supervision period.

      8. In the supervised groups studied here, we took one quarter as having been resocialised by the end of supervision, one-fifth as having at most improved formally, and over a half as not having been resocialised - in their case supervision ended in failure.

      On the basis of this study it may be stated that the chief criterion on which the man on supervision was judged (and on which the success of the supervision proces was judged) was whether or not he carried out the instruction to have a paid job. This was due to two reasons: in the first place, if the man was in paid employment, it mean that he was fulfilling at least the minimum of the demands made on him during the supervision period (this minimum  was: to earn his own living). Secondly, it was easy for both the Probation Officer and for the man he was supervising to check whether this order was being carried out, and how. The implementation of their instructions was treated as being of less importance. The main one was to have paid employment.  If the man being supervised was in a job, but failed to carry out other instructions given to him, the Probation Officers did not ask for him to be taken off supervision.

        At the present moment, when reform of the criminal law in Poland is under discussion, one of the problems being examined is that of the penal  liability of people who revert to crime, and the question of what legal penalties should be imposed on them. It has been pointed out during this discussion that the severe legal penalties imposed on habitual criminals during the last ten years have not been effective. Consequently the question still remains open: whether we should not apply the special measures described above - protective supervision or commitment to a social readaptation centre after the prison sentence is served. What we have learned from the use of a closed institution such as a social readaptation centre shows that it is completely ineffective. As for protective supervision, it has been postulated that this way of controlling the behaviour of habitual criminals should be transferred from the sphere of penal measures to the sphere of social security measures. It has been suggested that within the framework of post penitentiary care,  specific medsures to help, which would be carried out by the probation officers, would be available to habitual criminals after coming out of prison.


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