Only public dialogue can resolve Poland’s judicial reform crisis

Since 2015, Poland has experienced a gradual destabilisation of its judiciary and a weakening of the rule of law which now ranks as probably the most detrimental democratic crisis in the country’s post-1989 history. This is the result of a range of legislative changes introduced and implemented by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party that have been blamed for violating the separation of powers and endangering the independence of Polish judges.

The judicial crisis has not only brought extreme polarisation to Polish politics and public debate, but has also highlighted the value of public opinion and the relationship between lay people and the justice system. The key PiS actors responsible for the legislative changes have often justified their actions as being necessary due to low public trust in the justice system. Meanwhile, the general opposition to the reforms has relied on occasional public demonstrations as evidence of growing support for judges. Although both sides of the conflict have frequently cited what “the public” wants, there has been very little reflection in Poland on what public opinion actually is, how it is researched and what the limits are to this knowledge.

What do the public really want?

The concept of the public has long been viewed as ambiguous. In Immanuel Kant’s language, it is better to talk about different publics, differentiated by various characteristics, rather than one, homogenous entity. If one, however, insists on the use of “public opinion”, then it should be acknowledged that it is at best an aggregate of individual, malleable attitudes and beliefs that are formed throughout people’s lives and shaped by various agents of socialisation (e.g. families, schools, religion, employment).

The core of liberal democracy is civil society and involved publics, however, the judicial crisis in Poland has shown that ordinary people are largely indifferent to the fate of Polish judges. Whenever the “Polish public” is mentioned in the media, it is predominantly referred to as a separate category that operates disconnected from the Polish elites. This is sadly reminiscent of Jürgen Habermas’s argument that it is dangerous to view lay people as passive recipients of a media-produced public sphere. We are all part of “the public” and from the perspective of sociology, it is deeply disconcerting to see how the language of the public debate creates further division between those who discuss the judicial crisis and ordinary people.

It is indeed noticeable that Polish people, since the late 1990s, have had very little trust in the performance of the country’s courts. Recent public opinion polls by CBOS do not report any significant changes to this general attitude. Although such findings are mostly explained by the faulty mechanics of court proceedings such as delays in and the length of court hearings, the methodology used in these polls does not reveal the nuances. Public confidence in courts in CBOS opinion polls has been approached in a rather dichotomous and narrow manner (as either satisfaction or dissatisfaction with court performance in Poland), and views on court performance should not be equated with people’s trust in the Polish justice system.

Figure: Public assessments of court performance in Poland (CBOS 1994-2019)

A wealth of quantitative attitudinal research suggests that there are a number of differentiating factors that influence people’s perceptions of the justice system: age, gender, education, previous contact with the justice system.

A low level of knowledge among respondents has frequently been cited as a problem in opinion polling, which has given rise to the popularity of deliberative opinion polls that aim to provide information during the process of measuring people’s views. However, in addition to examining current knowledge on public perceptions of the justice system, it is also necessary to assess the methodology through which this knowledge has been accumulated. As Liz Turner has argued, over-reliance on opinion polls is potentially problematic when it comes to our understanding of people’s views, attitudes and beliefs.

The need for public dialogue

Just as no criminal justice system operates in a vacuum, people’s views do not either. Therefore, quantitative research should be supplemented with the findings produced by qualitative studies that capture the social, political and economic context in which people’s views are examined. Almost none of these points have gained the attention of commentators on the Polish judicial crisis who still present a decidedly superficial take on public opinion. Interpretations of the crisis are saturated with non-statistically treated findings from opinion polls; and if there are any attempts to go beyond frequently replicated phrases, they are not informed by robust empirical research but formed as loosely gathered thoughts.

When it comes to the role of the public and their relationship with the justice system, Turner also cautions about an accompanying agenda of educating lay people on how the criminal justice system “really” works. As Sonia Livingstone and Peter Lunt argue, “there is a difference between an elite democracy where communication between established power and the laity takes the form of dissemination from the powerful and the representation of ordinary beliefs as mass opinion, and a participatory democracy where established power is engaged in some kind of dialogue with the public”.

Although a recent article by the Polish Ombudsman suggests there has been a growing realisation in Poland about the importance of public engagement, this needs to take the form of an active dialogue, tailored to various publics. It should be accompanied by a thorough search for understanding why lay people are not a willing audience when it comes to resolving the judicial crisis in their own country. Only then can the public have active engagement with criminal justice decision-making and be regarded, through their rights, duties and membership, as individuals in a nation state.

The post was originally published by LSE EUROPP


Turner, E.R. (2018) Public Confidence in Criminal Justice. Milton Keynes: Palgrave.

Livingstone, S., and Lunt, P. (1994) The mass media, democracy and the public sphere. In Talk on Television: Audience participation and public debate (9-35). London: Routledge.

The irony of fate

Not that long ago, over a delicious dinner, I had an interesting conversation with my friends about the time when we were all working on our doctoral research. More precisely, the conversation brought out what we hoped to achieve with our research findings at the time, how very little of this had materialised, and even how our own research had turned against us at some point. This was something that my partner poignantly summarised; that we have fallen victims to our own Ph.Ds.

One of my doctoral research intentions was to explore how viable restorative justice is in Poland. I examined this through a non-conventional approach in order to bring new, original and sociological insights. Through the understandings of punishment and justice of lay people I wanted to explore what stands in the way of having more trust in restorative justice in my home country. My research produced narratives that I attempted to unravel and contextualise, one of which was people’s distrust of the Polish criminal justice system and how this impacted their perception of restorative justice practices. Although I guessed that numerical data would be more appealing to the audience, I was hopeful that this could still be a push to move restorative justice in Poland forward. As a keen believer in public criminology, I started collaborating with like-minded restorative justice advocates and engaged in an international project to set the wheels in motion. Be that as it may, the broader socio-political context that I discussed so much, to make sense of my participants’ accounts, proved to be my biggest challenge later on.

The research dissemination process started at the beginning of what is now known as the most detrimental judicial crisis in Poland. For the past couple of years, I have been witnessing the gradual destabilisation of the Polish judiciary and the weakening of the rule of law, owing to the governing, right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS). The so-called “justice reforms” introduced by the PiS-led parliament have dangerously diminished the independence of judges, but have often been justified by the PiS politicians as being necessary due to the low public trust in the justice system. It is indeed true that lay Polish people (regardless of their experience and contact with the justice system) have very little trust in the courts; however, this is predominantly related to the mechanics of court proceedings such as delays in and the length of court hearings. The public dissatisfaction with the Polish courts has therefore been misinterpreted and in consequence misused by the ruling party. This is an example of how yet again a superficial take on public opinion has become a convenient political tool to bend the truth.

The general opposition to the reforms has rightly mobilised the domestic and international bodies to signal the seriousness of the situation. However, the occasional accompanying public demonstrations have, in my opinion, conveyed the wrong impression that there is now more public support for the judges than ever before. Despite the methodological limitations, the recent CBOS public opinion polls report no significant changes in how lay people assess the performance of Polish courts and the 2019 parliamentary re-election of the Law and Justice party may suggest that the public has remained largely indifferent to the judicial crisis. My working hypothesis is that people’s trust in the justice system is interwoven with a broader sense of social justice; however, this is a troublesome phenomenon that requires more attention from sociologists.

The viability of restorative justice depends on a number of factors – the political will of, or cooperation with the conventional justice system are probably the first ones that come to mind. Although very welcome, any initiatives undertaken by the Polish Ministry of Justice to popularise mediation (understood as a restorative justice practice) should be taken with great caution. This is firstly because the popularisation of mediation by the current government might be interpreted as another mechanism against the independence of Polish judges, and this is not what mediation is about. Secondly, it is morally problematic to support one aspect of the government’s activity knowing that the same government is undermining such a fundamental principle as the rule of law.

There is no doubt that Poland is experiencing a strongly polarised conflict for which there is no foreseeable end. I worry though that the judicial crisis has done nothing more than reinforcing the public distrust in the justice system, the consequences of which are yet to be seen. As an advocate of restorative justice, my natural point of departure in this circumstance would be to offer dialogue and reconciliation, but will anybody listen?

The paradox is that the key actors that I once hoped would be the vehicles of change for restorative justice in Poland have fallen victim to a highly destructive conflict themselves.



The pain of a restorative encounter

Time flies fast but I have recently been urged to return to the literature and look at the well-known theoretical dilemma in restorative justice, which is whether to consider RJ as an alternative to punishment or alternative punishment. This subject came up after my presentation at the conference organised in mid-October in Wrocław by SKS Frontis to celebrate the centenary of the probation service in Poland.

Most scholars reject to see RJ as an alternative punishment, arguing that restoration should replace the infliction of pain, coercion, painful obligations, and that reparation, along with the process of healing, should become a common goal. However, the notion of punishment is a matter of interpretation. What is at issue in the relationship between punishment and restorative justice is the intention of the decision-makers, the nature of restorative reparation (whether desired or not), as well as the perceptions of the relationship by victims and offenders.

Daly (2012) says that although a debate over the relationship between punishment and restorative justice has developed, many restorative justice scholars still see little connection between the two and avoid addressing the notions of ‘punitiveness’, ‘painful consequences’, ‘hardship’ or ‘infliction of pain’ within the restorative justice scholarship. She elaborates on this point as follows:

How restorative justice sanctions can be distinguished from other types. Typically, ‘non-punitive’ is used to refer to a restorative response or outcome, but this begs the question: when is a response ‘punitive’ or ‘non-punitive’? Is this in the mind of the decision maker, is it implied in any coerced sanction, is it how an offender experiences a sanction, or is it how a victim interprets a sanction?

 Although the retributive-restorative justice contrast was an ‘elegant and catchy exposition’ at the time, Daly argues that restorative justice unavoidably contains punitive aspects and that it is misleading to deny it because some degree of retribution can and should be part of restorative justice (Daly, 2012). Moreover, Duff (2002) seeks to redefine the meaning of punishment and argues that we should recognise restorative justice as an alternative punishment that aims to impose appropriate kinds of pain, and that ‘criminal mediation’ and reparation can become punitive outcomes. Duff (2002) reconciles punishment and restoration, arguing that not only is restoration compatible with retribution but that criminal punishment is necessary for restoration.

One of the most comprehensive overviews of the debate is offered by Walgrave (2008) in his Restorative Justice, Self-interest and Responsible Citizenship, in which he argues that restorative justice is neither an alternative punishment nor an alternative to punishment. The crucial distinction is in the intentionality. Walgrave says that it is the ‘mental location’ of the painfulness that counts, and even if there is no intention to inflict pain, there must be an awareness of the hardship of a reparative obligation by offenders. Although Walgrave says that criminal punishment does not work and there is no justification for the intention of inflicting pain, he sees it as a means of achieving restoration. Although restorative justice is clearly different from the predominant punitive apriorism in the current criminal justice response to crime, he emphasises that distinguishing restorative justice from punitive criminal justice does not mean totally abandoning coercion and legalism (Walgrave, 2008). Elsewhere Walgrave (2004) argues that restoration can be seen as reversed retribution and that in restorative justice the offender’s ‘paying back’ role in punitive retributivism is reversed from a passive to an active one. What restorative justice does is that it tries to take hurt away by inverting punitive retributivism into constructive restorative retributivism (Walgrave, 2004).

This advanced theoretical perspective can be quite simply broken down into a more ordinary understanding. In a conversation with a Polish mediator, victim-offender mediation was compared to a Matryoshka doll that, metaphorically speaking, captures the essence of a restorative encounter: ‘People like to talk when they come to mediation, and through talking they diffuse their emotions. They talk their harm through to an outside person who listens to them’. In my view, and on a human level, the process of processing and diffusing emotional pains is nothing but painful. It is now common knowledge that individuals have mastered the skill to ignore, dismiss or numb painful emotions rather than acknowledge, work through and liberate from them. Therefore, I do not see why restorative justice should be seen as an escape from ‘the pain of committing or experiencing crime’, which in fact this is probably the safest environment in a justice system to feel and cope with it.

Photo: Wrocław Old Town


Daly, K. (2012) The Punishment Debate in Restorative Justice, in: J. Simon & R. Sparks (Eds.) The Handbook of Punishment and Society. London: Sage Publications.

Duff, R.A. (2002) Restorative Punishment and Punitive Restoration, in: L. Walgrave (Ed.) Restorative Justice and the Law. Cullompton: Willan Publishing.

Walgrave, L. (2004). Has Restorative Justice Appropriately Responded to Retribution Theory and Impulses? In: H. Zehr and B. Toews (Eds.) Critical Issues in Restorative Justice. Monsey: Criminal Justice Press.

Walgrave, L. (2008) Restorative Justice, Self-interest and Responsible Citizenship. London: Routledge.


Teaching is energy

Not that long ago I thought that I had it all figured out what teaching is or should be like. It was only when I started lecturing on a full time basis and had a chance to observe how it feels to be on the other side of the classroom, I paused to revisit my own beliefs about teaching. The quality of teaching depends on the attitudes that teachers bring to the classroom, and the attitude of teachers undoubtedly depends on the circumstances they are in. Flashing headlines about the marketization of universities are now nothing new but still deeply concerning. While higher education in the West has been subject to a gradual process of marketisation for decades, this is a relatively new phenomenon in Poland. The changing landscape of academia is constantly fuelled by never-ending demands to publish or apply for research grants, and the well-known phrase ‘publish or perish’ perfectly captures the growing pressure to disseminate academic work. Talks about launching new academic undertakings strongly resemble business-like meetings in which service providers (academics) ‘sell products’ (studies, conferences) to service users (students). This is probably the language that currently permeates universities across the world, and this is also the language that still poorly addresses the notion and quality of teaching.

It is no longer surprising to hear that teaching has become academics’ malady that is very rarely prioritised due to the avalanche of other commitments. Moreover, there is a well-established belief that students these days are less committed, less engaging, less intellectual, less creative and so and so forth. This attitude only creates the sense of ‘lack’ and if one gives in to this rhetoric and maintains such a mind-set this will then be perfectly mirrored in the classroom. My own realisation about didactics is that, as everything else in life, teaching is energy. Albert Einstein once said: ‘Everything is energy and that’s all there is to it. Match the frequency of the reality you want and you cannot help but get that reality. It can be no other way. This is not philosophy. This is physics’. Simple as that, the attitude and energy that lecturers bring to the class is more influential than some academics might realise. Teaching is a powerful and mutual exchange of energy between lecturers and students, so if we want our students to be more committed, engaging, intellectual, or creative we need to find all those attributes within ourselves first. Then, in order to find the potential to create we need to get back into study mode and look at our circumstances as an opportunity to grow. If we continue to see students as passive service users and nourish the ‘evil’ marketized academic mind-set, we will never be able to break the cycle of constant dissatisfaction with teaching. Academic collaborations, conference attendance, writing – all this needs to become somewhat a source of excitement and intellectual stimulation so then we can transfer these ‘academic sparks’ to our students.

Having said that, I am far from saying that I always do exhilarating teaching, as I, too, constantly learn how to sustain this attitude. Some would say that this just feels as we are tilting at windmills, but every single change always starts with tiny little baby steps.

Photo credit:


Gender & sentencing

Emilia and I met long time ago when I was writing my Msc dissertation on the experiences of motherhood in a prison nursery. We have kept in contact ever since and followed each other’s careers in criminology. On 28th Febraury I had the great pleasure of attending Emilia’s Ph.D. viva and celebrating her success with her family, friends and colleagues. 

Whilst Ph.D. viva examination in England is conducted behind closed doors by two examiners, thesis defences in Poland are open to the public. Emilia’s viva started with her presentation explaining the aims and methods of her doctoral research. This was then followed by a ‘live feedback’ from her examiners, prof. Anna Kosowska and prof. Jacek Kurczewski. After Emilia very elegantly and skilfully responded to the examiners’ questions, the audience were able to ask additional questions. 

Emilia’s doctoral thesis explores the meaning of gender in sentencing and is discussed through the lens of symbolic interactionism and feminist literature. The effects of gender on judicial decision making processes have been rarely discussed not only in Poland, but elsewhere too. Emilia argues that while the notion of gender is not significant in the Polish law and legal commentaries, it is recognised as important in criminological debates and research studies. Gender is, or can be, seen as one of the mitigating or aggravating factors, and judges while imposing sentences might act as ‘active creators’ who participate in the reproduction of gender expectations in the court settings. Although the thesis benefits from the content analysis of selected court cases, it is the sophisticated theoretical framework that makes this thesis truly outstanding. My hope is that once published, this thesis should serve as a wonderful source of knowledge and inspiration for many intellectual conversations amongst Polish criminologists.

And all this could have not taken place around better time than today – International Women’s Day.

Congratulations Dr Emilia Rekosz-Cebula!



Second term at Collegium Civitas is in full swing. My academic excitement has reached its peak this year, as among many interesting modules I teach, Criminology and Criminal Justice is the one that makes my heart melt every time I sit to prepare for classes.

This year apart from discussing how crime is socially constructed, contextualised and dependant on broader socio-economic and political circumstances I dedicate separate lecture to introduce the transnational dimensions of crime. And here is the Polish contribution to this matter.

Yuma was a specific criminal activity among Polish youth on the western border that emerged soon after the collapse of the socialist regime in 1989. It mainly involved going to Germany, however other European countries in the West were also popular destinations, to steal petty goods. These were goods as petty as perfume, designer clothes, or Gillette men’s razors – goods that were perceived as luxurious at the time thus smuggled and sold afterwards in Poland. The more ‘advanced’ form of yuma was car theft. It is estimated that in the mid-1990s, approximately 30% of young males in the region were involved in yuma. Although yuma has long been passe as a crime choice, linguistically is very much alive and kicking as ‘zajumac’ – meaning to steal.

Yuma should not however be discussed as an ordinary theft or handling stolen goods as this illegal activity paved the way for modern understandings of transnational crimes in Poland. Yuma came in a transnational package of post-1989 wonders of ‘new’ crimes such as benefit fraud, or embezzlement of different sorts. ‘New’ in a sense that this type of crime was neither officially recorded nor reported by the authorities. In fact, yuma was far from being a new activity as smuggling under the socialist regime was part of functioning of many Poles. Karol Nawrocki writes that most short term trips abroad at the time had financial motives. He further explains:

Despite its short, merely 50-year-long history, communist Poland generated a number of mechanisms which, on the one hand, encouraged communist elites to freely gain wealth in the West, but on the other, prompted the underprivileged part of society to engage in criminal activities. Vast disproportions in the quality of life between Eastern and Western Europe, limited  access  to  virtually  all  goods  paid  for  with  foreign  currency  and to the so-called luxury goods, and, finally, the unstable exchange rate of the PLN and the unpredictability of currency reforms introduced by the authorities,  became  the  bedrock  of  organized,  state-driven  crime.  At  the same  time,  these  factors  determined  the  fact  that  smuggle,  as  one  of  the two methods enabling Poles to live dignified lives in the communist state, enjoyed a certain cult throughout the 1944–1989 period, the other method being joining the communist party and becoming a member of the apparatus.

In Merton’s Strain Theory we learn that people in order to achieve their goals would turn to either legitimate or illegitimate coping strategies. The year 1989 opened a horizon of expectations, among them also materialistic ones that were fuelled by the desire to catch up with the ‘western standards of living’. Kurczewski (2007) has attempted to explain this circumstance and argued that the nature and pace of the post-1989 transformations did not encourage ‘chasing the West’ through legal channels. Therefore, yuma, considered as a transnational crime of deeper origins, should be seen and discussed as a post-1989 illegitimate channel amongst the Polish youth to ‘chase the West’.

Lastly, criminologists who are cinephiles and interested in this topic would really benefit from watching the movie Yuma – a Polish-Czech production, directed in 2012 by Piotr Mularuk, that interestingly depicts this criminal practice.


Kurczewski, J. (2007) Prawem i lewem. Kultura prawna społeczeństwa polskiego po komunizmie (Either Rightly or Like a Crook: Legal Culture of Polish Society after Communism). Sociological Studies, 2(185), 33-60.

Nawrocki, K. (2016) Autogangs. Car Smuggle to Communist Poland in the 1980s. Studia historiae oeconomicae. Vol. 34. Poznań: UAM.



Victim support in Poland

This week we commemorate in Poland the National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (19-25 February 2018) which has led me to briefly summarise the nature of victim support in the Polish criminal justice system.

One of the developments that aimed to change the Polish penal landscape after 1989 was to address the role of victims in the Polish criminal justice system. Victims’ rights were substantially codified in the 1997 Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure. While many of these developments have aimed to promote victims’ rights, the nature of the Polish inquisitorial justice system further enables crime victims to actively participate in criminal proceedings. Victims’ engagement with and role in the Polish criminal justice system depends on the type of crime they fall victim to as well as the type of prosecution that follows. Polish law distinguishes between public prosecutors appointed by the Prosecutor General and private prosecutors who are parties to criminal proceedings and who may assist public prosecutors in their work. In a public prosecution the victims are entitled to join the proceedings as ‘auxiliary prosecutors’. In so doing, the victim is then entitled to the following rights: making applications, lodging complaints, submitting evidence, reviewing case files, applying for legal representation, applying for help with court costs, applying for non-contact-orders, applying for compensation or damages to be awarded, and appealing court decisions. The only research to my knowledge that sheds light on this issue is the study carried out by the Institute of the Justice System (2012)  in which the impact of the victim on cases of consensual sentencing (sentencing without a trial) was examined based on court file analysis. The research findings demonstrate that victims of crime usually do not appear at the court hearings. If they do, their activity concerns mostly the subject of compensation which in consequence makes their impact on the sentencing rather insignificant.

In 1999, the Polish Victim Charter was introduced and since 2003 National Crime Victims’ Rights Week has been celebrated every February in Poland. The very first provisions assisting victims of crime in Poland can be traced back to the socialist regime when the rudiments of victim assistance originated. That was the time when the following institutions were established: the Post-penitentiary Assistance Fund (Fundusz Pomocy Postpenitencjarnej), the Victim Support Agency (Fundacja Pomocy Ofiarom Przestępstw) and the Child Support Agency (Fundusz Alimentacyjny). Since 1 January 2012 the first two have been merged into the Victim and Post-penitentiary Assistance Fund (Fundusz Pomocy Osobom Pokrzywdzonym Przestępstwem i Pomocy Postpenitencjarnej). The Fund is managed by the Ministry of Justice and there are various sources of revenue (e.g. compensation/fees ordered by the courts, 10% of income earned by serving/working prisoners). Currently, the assistance to victims of crime, financed by the aforementioned agency, is then provided by both public (the Polish police, health care services, prosecutor’s office, the judiciary) and non-public institutions (NGOs).

In 2008 the Polish Ministry of Justice also established the Support Network for Victims of Crime that is comprised of 15 separate Support Centres operating throughout the country. Victim Support Centres offer the following services: legal advice for victims of crime and their families, counselling for victims of crime and their families, referrals to other services that provide specialist help, food vouchers, cost of temporary accommodation, cost of health services, or cost of public transport expenses.

Overall, there has been an increased recognition of victims’ needs and rights in criminal proceedings in Poland. However, Bieńkowska & Mazowiecka (2009) have observed that victims’ rights have been subject to a number of changes that are sometimes contradictory and the quality of the changes still does not meet the expectations of Polish criminologists. Despite the fact that a lot has been done to promote victims’ needs, the problem of secondary victimisation has not been fully addressed. While legislative measures have been put in place to provide an adequate level for the protection of people who fall victim to crime, the practical measures still have not achieved the full measure of justice as promised in the legislation. One of the main obstacles that remains is access to justice to ensure that victims are aware of their rights and understand them both linguistically and legally. However, on that note, it is worth acknowledging that last year Judge Jarosław Gwizdak, known for his highly innovative approach to the justice system, drafted with the help of Dr Tomasz Piekot, from the University of Wrocław, a clear, understandable, and user-friendly witness summons in civil matters.

It is yet to be seen how Directive 2012/29/EU (also known as the Victims’ Directive) will influence the Polish criminal justice system’s response to crime victims. The Directive was adopted in 2012 in order to establish the minimum standards on the rights, support and protection of victims of crime – and restorative justice is acknowledged in the Directive as an important way to take into account the interests and needs of the victim, and to repair the harm done to the victim. The Victims’ Directive introduces an obligation for all EU member states to inform crime victims as to the availability of any restorative justice services and to facilitate referrals to these services. By 16 November 2017, and every three years thereafter, every EU member state must provide the European Commission with data showing how victims have accessed the rights set out in the Directive.

Unfortunately the empirical work conducted on the extent to which the victims’ rights have been implemented in Poland has been scarce. Although it is not study-based, Brążkowska and colleagues in the following report ‘Assistance to Victims of Crime in Poland’ critically review the current provisions for victims of crime in Poland and highlight that, apart from domestic violence cases, there are no comprehensive proactive mechanisms of reaching out to victims of crime in Poland. Although the authors of the report acknowledge the increasing numbers of victims who are referred to Support Centres by various institutions, they still identify the following pitfalls as far as victims’ support in Poland is concerned: dispersed and uneven national support, poor information about compensation for victims, low amounts of compensation paid to the victims, lack of victim assistance standards, lack of liaison officers dedicated to work with victims of crime, general practice of ‘discouraging victims to report crime’, low level of public awareness about victims’ rights, lack of cooperation between victims’ organisations.

It is surely one thing to acknowledge and support victims of crime, but even more important it is to understand the victim’s experience, deconstruct the victim mentality and empower those who fall victims to a crime. And this shall be a topic for a future post.



Bieńkowska, E. & Mazowiecka, L. (2009) Prawa ofiar przestępstw (Crime Victims’ Rights’). Warszawa: Wolters Kluwer.

Brążkowska, O.; Dębińska, K.; Gawenda, E.; Toporowski, J.; & Piechowiak, T. (2013) Assistance to Victims of Crime in Poland – selected issues. Available at:

Pali, B. (2016) Briefing Paper about the Regulation of Restorative Justice in the Directive 2012/29/EU. Available at:

Judge Jarosław Gwizdak on Twitter


Change in sight. A blog from sexual trauma awareness and response

Public criminologist

Almost a year ago, my friend Kate and I went to a little office on the 4th floor of the Lionel Robbins Building, 10 Portugal Street in London, to hand over the 318 pages of my doctoral thesis. And just a few minutes ago I completed and submitted a form to book a place for my Ph.D. Graduation Ceremony that will take place in July this year. It was 9 years ago when I was guided to look into criminology as my academic career path, and it was 6 years ago when I commenced my Ph.D. In retrospect, there is so much I am grateful for. I pursued my doctoral research at one of the most prestigious universities in the world, under the supervision of two great academics who set the bar very high, which was in the end defended in the presence of two renowned British criminologists. In my recent correspondence, another highly distinguished criminologist wrote: Do let me know what becomes of you. I’ll follow your career with interest.

However, what would I like to become of me then?

Naturally, I want to have my work published. Like many of my colleagues, in the post-Ph.D. rush, my very first step was to start drafting book chapters, peer-reviewed journal articles and a book proposal. Be that as it may, it was my November study visit to the Wrocław Centre for Restorative Justice and my January trip to the Polish prison in Lower Silesia that made me realise what sort of a criminologist I would like to become.

Looking back over my professional career, I always considered myself to be a risk-taker, an idealist who wants to make a change. I very often made decisions that were unpopular at the time, and only in hindsight it was indeed confirmed that my academic intuition was on point. The identity of an adventurous early career researcher however was put to the test while talking last month about restorative justice, mediation, forgiveness, apology to serving prisoners and men addicted to alcohol in a rehab centre. I could barely calm my nerves before each talk, I was unusually worried how what I was going to say would be received. I do not think I was this tormented even minutes before my Ph.D. viva. What an interesting situation it was. I have been going places with my research perspective on victim-offender mediation, but this was the very first time I talked about my topic with people who should actually practise and benefit from it in real settings. The feeling of uneasiness about my ‘scientific disconnection’ has led me to rethink my role in the scientific community and to recollect the literature on public criminology.

Public criminology originated in the debates over public sociology that raised the question about the civic mission of social sciences. In a few words, public criminology is about engaging with politics and public policies related to crime, punishment and criminal justice. In other words, public criminology is about balancing out theory, research, activism, practice and policy in order to translate criminological research into policy options. In Understanding Deviance (eds. Downes, Rock & McLaughlin) we can learn that:

What is now distinguished as ‘public criminology’  has been self-consciously designed  to encourage scholars to talk to communities, policy-makers, and other constituencies about matters of practical criminological interest, steering, informing, and responding to lay preoccupations and problems. Its place within the larger body of criminology has been analysed by Ian Loader and Richard Sparks in the guise of a typology of ideal-typical, professional roles[1]. Theirs is not a prescriptive or critical account but a description of varying stances and justifications, veering from  the engaged activist, at the one pole, to the detached scientific adviser, at the other. What they omit, for reasons that are not clear, is the position of the disinterested academic who is not bent on making his or her on politics or policy but on researching intellectual puzzles and problems.’

If I have recently learned anything about myself, it is that I want to do criminology differently. I want to be a good public criminologist who contributes to public knowledge, strives for excellence, not perfection, effects changes and makes an impact. It’s still early days, however, I have already taken some ‘academic baby steps’ towards my mission. I encouraged my students to include a section in their dissertations on policy implications of their own work and part of my research methods module was dedicated to the process of data dissemination.

Although I want to be the best version of a public criminologist I can possibly become, it appears that I again made a very unpopular decision to pursue this endavour in highly challenging justice settings of my own country. As always, I trust my intuition on this score.



Downes, D.; Rock, P. & McLaughlin, E. (2016) Understanding Deviance. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Loader, I. & Sparks, R. (2010) Public Criminology? London: Routledge.


[1] Loader & Sparks distinguished the following types of criminologists: scientific experts, policy advisors, governmental players, social movement theorists, and lonely prophets.

The Revolutionary Road

The only constant thing in our lives is change. Although I cope with changes quite well, this passing year has been by far the most transformative year in my entire life. It has been a year filled with smaller and bigger revolutions; all of them eventually brought me home where everything beautifully falls into place. Part of this 2017 transformation has been my personal understanding of the criminological theory that is close to my heart and became the point of departure for my doctoral studies.

Restorative justice gained worldwide attention due to the perceived and hotly criticised deficiencies and failures of conventional justice systems. The purpose of restorative justice is to bring positive changes and create certain space outside the court system for encounters to take place between all affected by the crime – victims, offenders, and/or their respective communities. Restorative justice has been seen as a new way of thinking about crime, justice and punishment that is motivated by a variety of impulses, mostly including healing and reconciliation with victims playing an active role.

Those restorative encounters aim at transforming and transmuting emotional energies that surround the conflict (crime) and repairing harm. In theory, the concept of restorative justice is something of a lighthouse that emits such a delightful justice light and casts a shadow over mostly punitive conventional justice solutions. When it comes to practice, it always reflects theory to a different degree. The introduction of restorative justice varied in different societies and this is mainly due to the extent to which the theory resonates with society’s cultural preconditions. In other words, the practice of restorative justice is like a mirror which reflects the aspirations and experiences of those who practice and write about it in a given context.

One may think that restorative justice is a tender-hearted theory that actually creates a space for offenders to get away with punishment and for victims to become subjects to secondary victimisation. Well, nothing could be further from the truth.

Although a debate over the relationship between punishment and restorative justice has developed, many restorative justice scholars still see little connection between the two and avoid addressing the notions of ‘painful consequences’, ‘hardship’ or ‘infliction of pain’ within the restorative justice scholarship. Contrary to common beliefs, restorative justice is not a soft justice solution. As a matter of fact restorative justice is, in my view, an incredibly powerful and very painful justice process.

Just imagine the following. The intention of a restorative meeting is to shed people’s ego and strip them away from their victim/offender identities so they can cut those toxic crime cords and move on. Offenders sometimes become quite disconnected from their actions and as a result unaware of the consequences of committing a crime. So restorative justice is not only about activating that awareness, breaking the offenders’ denial techniques, but also empowering and reintegrating them into society. Yes – restorative justice is also about empowering offenders as they are human beings too.

Restorative encounters are the type of meetings in which emotions run high and in which one can find a sacred space for apologies and forgiveness. However, there is more to the belief that restorative justice contributes to the empowerment of victims who are left ‘unheard and out of account’ in traditional criminal justice. Restorative encounters aim at grounding the victim, making him/her face their emotions, telling their truth, and finally getting rid of the victim label. Yes – restorative justice is also about overcoming the victim mentality.

Let me reassure you again – restorative meetings do bring hardship. More than any punitive souls ever dreamed of. The more serious the case is, the more emotional triggers need to be worked through.

No gain without pain.

I do not know a single criminologist who would not like to see a change in offenders’ behaviours or in the justice system in general, and restorative justice is the place where the real change can take place. Restorative justice brings ‘restorative’ pain – this is the type of pain that is welcomed and justified, it is a natural by-product of a restorative practice that aims to cleanse, restore, construct, repair and reintegrate (see Gavrielides, 2016).

Having researched the concept for years now I came to understand restorative justice as a spiritual theory that is being implemented and developed in human conditions. Restorative justice is about awakening the criminal justice system to its restorative potential, and last but not least, it is about raising the vibration of the entire justice system.


Gavrielides, T. (2016) Restorative Pain:  A New Vision of Punishment, in: T. Gavrielides & V. Artinopoulou (eds.) Reconstructing Restorative Justice Philosophy. London: Routledge.



RJ Week in Wrocław

This year’s International Restorative Justice Week runs from 19 to 26 November, and on 20 November, I will have a great pleasure to talk about the restorative potential of unpaid work at the University of Wrocław. The event called ‘Viability of Restorative Justice‘ is organised by the Wrocław Centre for Restorative Justice, in collaboration with the Regional Court in Wrocław and the Department of Law, University of Wrocław. The main highlight of the event will be the screening of ‘A Conversation’ , the trailer of which you can follow below:

For more information on what will be going on that week across Europe please check the European Forum for Restorative Justice website.

In the meantime Happy RJ Week!


Romanian prisons through the lens of Cosmin Bumbuţ

For quite some time now, photography has been accompanying my professional path as a criminologist, and whenever suitable, I use photography as a tool to shed light on the debates in criminology that are of interest to my students or myself. I have a strong appreciation of anyone who is willing to cross the fences of the criminal justice system and document the penal ‘darkness’ in an engaging way. The other day I was fortunate to come across the prison photographs by Cosmin Bumbuţ, a highly-acclaimed Romanian photographer, and decided to dedicate this post to his work. I selected a number of photographs and with Cosmin’s permission would like to share his work on my blog too.

The first set of photographs reports on the photo workshop for female prisoners, which Cosmin facilitated in Târgșor Prison in 2009. The females were allowed to use cameras throughout the workshop and Cosmin reflects on this experience as follows: ‘In two months they had shot about 14.000 images. At the end of the workshop I had a selection of 1.100 images. I chose the best ones and there had remained 395 images. From my point of view, these 395 photos can be exhibit anytime, without any embarrassment, on any gallery wall. These images are far better than many other pictures: they are honest, innocent and fresh. They don’t show any sign of routine, they are not cold or technical and they don’t let you see one’s trigger-happy pleasure a camera commonly gives.

Penitenciarul de Femei Tirgsor

The second series I was fascinated by is entitled Camera Intima and depicts ‘prison intimate cells’ – dedicated prison rooms that convey the prisoners’ right to private visits. So-called ‘sex cells’, or to put it more diplomatically, ‘conjugal visits’ are seen as a very effective way to maintain prisoners’ complicity. Cosmin explains that ‘In 2005 Aiud (a Romanian prison) looked like a prison from the Communist era. Rooms were dirty and the walls unpainted, the cells were very small and crowded. In 2008, it was renovated and the cells were expanded, the prisoners didn’t wear uniforms. Romanian prisons started to look like the ones from the American movies, with white walls and new metal shiny doors. Prisoners are now allowed officially to have sex inside an institution, but they have to follow all the bureaucratic steps; to write a request, to wait for the approval, to obey the rules. Only prisoners who behave in prison are allowed to have private visits. Prisoners are more obedient when they have access to the intimate rooms’. 

©Cosmin Bumbutz. All rights reserved.

©Cosmin Bumbutz. All rights reserved.

©Cosmin Bumbutz. All rights reserved.

©Cosmin Bumbutz. All rights reserved.

©Cosmin Bumbutz. All rights reserved.


For more information about Cosmin’s work please visit his personal website:

* All photographs are published with the author’s permission. 


Sorry seems to be the hardest word …

Whether intentional or not, people have the great potential to hurt one another. The solution to this is simple, but still not quite easy. What drew me to restorative justice was that apology takes centre stage in RJ debates. One of the questions put to my study participants concerned the issue of apology and whether it matters when dealing with offenders. Although participants’ opinions on the importance of apology varied widely in my doctoral research, overall the practice of apologising did not lie at the heart of their views. Making an apology was frequently seen as ‘just’ an act or etiquette to follow, especially if it is within a court setting – where the expression of apology is limited and frequently managed by lawyers.

Apologies, remorse. No this is just etiquette. That’s what I think, he showed remorse, no remorse – perhaps it works in a way. Today I have seen a case of a Polish couple, who beat their child in England, they didn’t show any remorse. It’s not only that it’s a very serious crime but not showing remorse is like the last nail in their coffin in this case. So probably yes, it’s important though.


The perception of apology through the court lenses might limit the importance of apology within other (restorative) settings among lay people. This observation also resonates with Gruber’s (2014) point made in I’m Sorry for What I Have Done where research findings suggested that apology serve as a ritualised formula that can influence the defendant’s sentence. The fact that offenders’ apologies are viewed with scepticism is also reflected in the evaluation of restorative justice practices in England and Wales (see Shapland et al. 2006) where the authors argued that apology in serious cases or with adult offenders should become a more complex and evidenced act addressed to several audiences. Therefore, Shapland et al. (2006:514) encourage to differentiate court- and ‘other’ settings-based apology and argue that: ‘in restorative justice situated within criminal justice system there are at least two audiences for these apologies, so apologies are an even more complex task, needing to reach out in two directions, to the victim and to the court/society’.

Apology is also culturally constructed and some of my participants suggested that the limited confidence in apology stems from the fact that Polish people just do not know how to apologise:

We don’t know how to apologise, but perhaps we don’t know how to forgive so this would be, because I suspect that if one was to apologise this had to be in someone’s presence. Whether there is a probation officer or someone else who is supervising this person who committed the offence, as a proof. So I think … that these apologies that people say it, this wouldn’t be natural because this person has to apologize and the other has to say ok. How do I forgive you? … go and sin no more[2]. [Laugh] so I don’t know.


A similar remark was made by one of the mediators, however in his narrative lack of support for apology is contextualised against difficult Polish history, socio-economic changes as well as the pressures of globalization:

Taking into account our past 300 years, it’s difficult to say whether Poles know how to reconcile, at least we have been trying to have a culture of reconciliation based on norms and standards, that we, and them, can be in control of or influence it at the very least. And do we know how to reconcile? It seems to be that yes. But simple ’sorry’ seems to be the hardest word to say. For starters, it’s so obvious in mediation (…) we have to start talking to one another at home. Well the economy, society is developing, we have to keep up with the rest of the world, and without changes in our thinking or attitude this won’t be possible. Someone else will outdo us again. We will be like with the quality of road infrastructure rankings, just behind Chad and other African countries. It’s like with the culture of family life. It is different in Germany, different in France, and in England it is different. In every single country it will be different. And in Poland it is different. It’s the same if let’s say we go to Belarus to find people who want to be mediators and expect to see hands in the air.

[Mediator 3/I]

At this point it is worth recalling the observation made by Shapland et al. (2006:507) that ‘restorative justice is not a ready-made package of roles, actions and outcomes, and although in the light of the restorative justice literature the restorative encounter can be seen as ritualistic, these rituals do vary across societies.

Last but surely not least, the unimportance of apology in the Polish context can be illustrated as an inter-cultural component of cross-linguistic analyses. For example, in research on speech acts Anna Wierzbicka, a Polish linguist, demonstrated that Polish linguistic norms prefer directness, and this is deeply embedded in the Polish culture, compared to English norms. The next quotation illustrates that people might prefer actions rather than emotional or symbolic gestures when it comes to the act of apology:

We could give it a try. And what kind of result it would bring who knows, I seriously don’t know, because it can be the same like with these apologies (…) as you see [Laugh] I am not good with these wordy things, I prefer actions.


Wierzbicka has observed that English speakers tend to think that the concepts of anger, fear, or contempt are universal categories. However, every culture has its own ‘cultural linguistic scripts’ which suggest to people how to express their feelings and how to think about other people’s feelings.  For that reason, Wierzbicka has emphasised that the classification of emotions depends largely on the language through the prism of which these emotions are interpreted, and argued that emotions should also be studied cross-culturally. In contrast to the English language, in Polish there is a greater use of ‘straightforward’ and ‘confrontational’ expressions, as Poles expect people to be direct with emotions, views and reactions. The Polish ‘cultural linguistic’ script reflects a tendency to spontaneous emotional expression, without trying to analyse, shape or suppress them. Whereas in English there are many common speech routines that encourage the demonstration of ‘positive emotions’, even if displayed ‘artificially’. The significance of this finding is that the bulk of restorative justice research was carried out in contexts where people speak English as a native language, and the English language might not have equivalents in other languages (cultures). Wierzbicka has pointed to the fact that Anglo-cultural scripts encourage people to be careful, considerate, and thoughtful to avoid hurting other people’s feelings as the focus is on the feelings of the other person. On the other hand Polish cultural scripts have no equivalents, and the focus is not on the feelings of the addressee but on those of the speaker. I find this part of my research the most fascinating and I strongly believe that participants’ ambivalent view of apology and Wierzbicka’s research in particular shows that linguistics might in the future contribute to the cross-disciplinary study of emotions, and restorative justice in particular.



Gruber, M.C. (2014) I’m Sorry for What I Have Done. The Language of Courtroom Apologies. Oxford University Press.

Shapland, J., Atkinson, A., Atkinson, H., Chapman, B., Colledge, E., Dignan, J., Howes, M., Johnstone, J., Robinson, G. and Sorsby, A. (2006) Situating restorative justice within criminal justice. Theoretical Criminology, 10, 505-532.

Wierzbicka, A. (1985) Cross-Cultural Pragmatics: The Semantics of Human Interaction. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Wierzbicka, A. (1999) Emotions across Languages and Cultures. Diversity and Universals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[2] These are the words from the Bible when a woman caught and charged with adultery was brought to Jesus. The crowd wanted her to be stoned to death. Then Jesus said to the crowd: “go ahead… but let the person without sin throw the first stone.” When the crowd resigned and walked away he said to the woman:  “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more” (John 8: 3-11).

Restorative potential of unpaid work

In my previous post, I discussed the penal function of unpaid work and argued that Poland may be considered as a society with certain historical receptiveness to work. The intention for this piece is to present my argument that lay people’s confidence in work creates a certain space to explore restorative dimension to it – a finding that might indeed be of assistance to the viability of restorative justice in post-socialist countries and elsewhere.

In so doing, I will briefly refer to a couple of my participants’ quotations to illustrate this argument further. Restorative justice has long been known as a process of respectful dialogue, where offenders are held accountable for their actions, harm is repaired and offenders are reintegrated into society (Zehr & Mika, 1998). Interestingly, in my doctoral research it was unpaid work that was frequently discussed as a vehicle that could enhance remorse and activate the feeling of guilt among offenders. Work as a better means to redeem one’s wrongdoings was for example articulated in the following interview with a 66-year old female:

I would also prefer them to work. Wherever there are any needs, shortfalls, where there is no money to finance some public works, they should work there, ho-hum, whoever can afford to pay, won’t feel the restriction. And the ones who can’t afford to pay, so to speak, it’s a bit of a vicious circle for them and what next? How to force him to …? He got a fine but doesn’t pay, he is sent to prison and what? He should get a chance to rehabilitate himself through some community work. There are so many needs, for example in orphanages, you can arrange a lot of things, it is just important that they work and become helpful. [I51/I]

One of the important features of restorative justice is the expressions of remorse that are essential components of any restorative practice. This observation was made in an interview with a 20-year old female student who indicated that work can indeed enhance remorse in offenders, leading to their reintegration into society:

First thing, unpaid work means a lesson in remorse and cooperation with other people. That’s what I think. [P22/I]

Below, the same female participant gave an example of child maintenance arrears (see my post on the indebted Polish fathers) and illustrated in her interview how work perceived as community payback could contribute to a father’s realization of his parental financial negligence:

Child maintenance arrears … I would consider various scenarios, why is he not paying and so on. However, what I think is …If this person really doesn’t feel obliged to … doesn’t recognise that it is a child, and is not paying because he doesn’t want to pay, then I think it would be good to offer unpaid work, it should be ordered that this person needs to do something for the community. Alternatively, this person could be obliged to show interest in the child, because it doesn’t happen often I think with this type of case. This perhaps would affect him somehow, he would notice that actually it is his own child, and this child needs this and that, maybe then something would change. Alternatively, if someone doesn’t have money, then unpaid work so he could get back on his feet to pay it off or something. [P22/I]

Another interesting outcome of the data analysis was the participants’ view that work might activate a feeling of guilt, and so break the denial of responsibility among offenders – something known as neutralization techniques. These techniques were described by Sykes & Matza (1957), who argued that most delinquency is based on justifications for crime that protect the individual from self-blame and the blame of others after the wrongdoing. When there is no disapproval from the social environment, these rationalisations are lightly neutralised and the individual can engage in further delinquency. A similar understanding of the issue appeared in a focus group with young study participants living in an urban area, in which work was seen as an avenue for the offender to realise the consequences of his actions and, as a consequence, prevent any denial:

AM: Fine. Those of you who indicated the second option as the better one [in relation to a case scenario], so what was it exactly that appealed to you? Was it that he acknowledged his guilt, that he wrote an apology letter, or that he would get a financial penalty because he agreed to compensate all the damage, or that he would do unpaid work? What was it …//

P21: That he acknowledged his guilt, and that he agreed to cover damages.

P24: Essentially the fact that he would compensate financially, and that he would work for a bit as this way he could feel that he had done something wrong. If he apologised and only gave it back, that wouldn’t be enough. [FGUY]

My argument that the confidence in [unpaid] work might reflect a certain potential for restorative justice in the Polish context is, however, contrary to some of the restorative literature, which suggests that there is a risk of branding community work as a restorative practice (see for example Bussu, 2016). Nevertheless, due to the ingrained nature of, and strong support for, community service in my study, I align myself with Fellegi (2010) who argues that in Central Eastern European societies, community service can be seen as the basis for further development of restorative justice. According to Fellegi, community work has a more established structure in those countries; what is needed is to strengthen the process conceptually and provide relevant practitioners with a better understanding of the restorative concept in order to convey restorative ideas through community service. Such an approach would also reflect Daly’s (2002) argument that the introduction of restorative justice in various contexts should incorporate degrees of ‘cultural appropriateness’. Only such an understanding of restorative justice will make restorative practices flexible towards and accommodating of cultural differences.


Bussu, A. (2016) In need of a cultural shift to promote restorative justice in Southern Europe. Contemporary Justice Review, 19(4), 479-503.

Daly, K. (2002) Restorative Justice, The Real Story. Punishment and Society, 4(1), 55-79.

Fellegi, B. (2010) The Restorative Approach in Practice: Models in Europe and in Hungary. European Best Practices of Restorative Justice in the Criminal Procedure. Conference Publication. Budapest: Ministry of Justice and Law Enforcement of the Republic of Hungary.

Sykes, G.M. & Matza, D. (1957) Techniques of Neutralization. A Theory of Delinquency. American Sociological Review, 22(6), 664-670.

Zehr, H. & Mika, H. (1998) Fundamental concepts of restorative justice. Contemporary Justice Review, 1, 47-55.

Penal function of [unpaid] work

To my surprise, beliefs about unpaid work came up as one of the most original findings of my study. Work was overwhelmingly viewed as the most appropriate and beneficial form of punishment in my research. Therefore, the next couple of posts will explore this matter a little bit more.

Work as punishment has a long tradition in many countries and has been predominantly performed in the form of prison labour, or more recently, as a community sanction. While the major penal function of work in the past was to instil discipline, the current rationale is to prepare prisoners for life after release, or when in the form of unpaid community sanction, constitutes an essential part of most countries’ sentencing policies.

Performing work of benefit to the community by wrong-doers has evolved over the years in all European jurisdictions and, alongside electronic monitoring or community justice innovations, unpaid work has become one of the new forms of community sanction. In the field of restorative justice, ‘work’ falls under the heading of reparation or restitution, which is performed by the offender and addressed directly to the victim or community. It is however the concept of prison labour/work that gains more attention.

Penal labour, both under the name of galley slavery, deportation, or penal servitude, has always been a substantial feature of imprisonment and partially replaced capital and corporal punishment in the late sixteenth century. Historically, there have been three main principles behind work in prison settings: discipline and deterrence, a commercialised form of industry/self-sufficiency, and moral reformation/rehabilitation (Hawkins, 1983; Matthews, 2009).

Throughout prison history, both economic and non-economic factors have shaped the functioning of prison labour. To illustrate this point Hawkins (1983) pointed to the work of Sidney and Beatrice Webb, who documented the condition of English prisons and penal labour in the nineteenth century England. The scholars demonstrated the diversity in the organization of prison labour based on their comparison between Coldbath Fields Prison, as an example of an unproductive system of punitive labour, and Wakefield Prison, as an example of a developing prison industry. It was the Home Office 1865-77 policy that undermined profitable prison employment in English correctional facilities and reinstated the penal character of prison discipline (Hawkins, 1983).

Matthews’ (2009) argument is that prison labour has always been looked at through the ‘less eligibility’ principle – a rarely-explored and referred-to concept. The notion of ‘less eligibility’ originated in the writings of Jeremy Bentham and was embedded in the English 1834 Poor Laws, which called for the standard of prison conditions to be below the minimum standard of living for those living outside prison (Hawkins, 1983). Likewise, profitable employment and training of prisoners attracted a certain antagonism during the Great Depression in the United States in the 1930s, when the employment of prisoners on the open market was changed to work on public projects or at agricultural work (Sieh, 1989). Hawkins (1983) argued that the logic of the concept significantly influenced the operation of criminal justice systems in terms of prison reforms, prison work conditions, rehabilitation and parole conditions; long-term failure to develop effective and profitable prison industries is not due to economic constraints but the persistent influence of the principle of ‘less eligibility’, deeply rooted in people’s minds and embedded in Western penal policies.

Although penal labour has been a prison feature in many countries, some scholars argue that there are distinctive characteristics when it comes to prison labour in Eastern European countries. Piacentini (2008) observed that the Soviet construction of crime and punishment involves the combination of hard labour and exile. The idea of exile and hard labour also appeared along with the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, when the notion of re-education through labour was mirrored in the relevant law and implemented after the revolution in 1918 (Andrejew, 1981).  A great illustration of the relationship between prison and labour camps is the Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

In my research, the discussions around the penal function of work served as a tool that unlocked a broader picture. I consider [unpaid] work as a feature that might define ‘Polishness’ and to some extent sets Poland apart from other nations. Firstly, confidence in work appeared as a solution to the failures of the nineteenth-century uprisings in Poland. It was believed that the best initiative to remedy the situation was to renew Polish society, and revert to the defence of national interest through social, economic, and cultural initiatives – something that had already been somewhat of a tradition in Poland and was known as ‘organic work’ (praca organiczna). The tenets of ‘organic work’ became an element of nineteenth-century Polish political thought, and aimed at neutralizing the revolutionary attempts to restore Poland’s independence, and instead, encouraging capitalistic entrepreneurship and improving the economic wellbeing of the nation (Blejwas, 1970). Secondly, the time of communism served as a social incubator where work as a symbol of Polish social imagery was further strengthened. Andrzej Leder, in his historical study entitled An over-dreamed revolution: an exercise in historical logic (2014), drew on Charles Taylor’s general concept of social imagery, and investigated contemporary values, and symbols through which Poles imagine their society. Leder has emphasized that work, among many other features, has always served as a distinctive symbol in Polish social imagery that stems mainly from peasant heritage and experience of the socialist regime. The class of Homo Sovieticus – the new Soviet people – was composed of workers who were mainly of peasant descent. Trades such as miner or steelmaker were particularly praised and honoured by Party officials. Thirdly, the peasant origins of Polish society were also interestingly depicted by Wasilewski (1986), who observed that Polish society’s awareness, culture and ideology are determined by its peasantry. Wasilewski outlined the key characteristic features for peasant societies as: direct contact with nature and dependency on nature to a high degree, field attachment, self-help, humility before the forces of nature, risk-averseness, high religiosity, mistrust of the outside world – and a very strong work ethic.

My participants’ trust in work demonstrated a long tradition of ‘work glorification’ in the Polish context – something that is not a surprise any longer. This particular discovery took me back to Garland’s definition of punishment – punishment is not only a reaction to crime; it can serve as a key with which one can unlock a larger cultural text; it is a social construct shaped by various social forces that has its own historical tradition and cultural styles, as well as being intended to perform varying instrumental roles (Garland, 1991).


Andrejew, I. (1981) Le droit pénal comparé des pays socialistes.

Blejwas, S.A. (1970) The origins and practice of ‘Organic Work’ in Poland: 1795-1863. The Polish Review, 15(4), 23-54.

Garland. D. (1991) Sociological Perspectives on Punishment. Crime and Justice, 14, 115-165.

Hawkins, G. (1983) Prison Labour and Prison Industries. Crime and Justice, 5, 85-127.

Leder, A. (2014) Prześniona rewolucja. Ćwiczenie z logiki historycznej (A dreamed revolution: an exercise from the historical logic).

Matthews, R. (2009) Doing time. An Introduction to the Sociology of Imprisonment.

Piacentini, L. (2008) Burden or Benefit? Paradoxes of Penal Transition in Russia in K. McEvoy and L. McGregor (eds.) Transitional Justice from Below: Grassroots Activism and the Struggle for Change.

Sieh, E.W. (1989) Less Eligibility: The Upper Limits of Penal Policy. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 3(2), 159-183.

Wasilewski, J. (1986) Społeczeństwo polskie, społeczeństwo chłopskie [Polish society, peasant society] Studia Socjologiczne, 3(102), 39-56.

Polish criminologists at Eurocrim 2017

The 17th Annual Conference of the European Society of Criminology is fast approaching and to my great joy I selected the papers that will be presented by Polish criminologists. Good luck to everyone!

Theme: Shaping police discretion

Monika Baylis (University of Huddersfield)

Police discretion on Anti-Social Behaviour – Polish and English approaches

Anti-social Behaviour (ASB) has become a popular key topic of public and political concern in the UK, the introduction of the Crime, ASB and Policing Act(2014) and the recent proposal of Policing and Crime Bill (2016) go some way to demonstrating that commitment. However, Police can play a major role in the process of criminalisation as well as being a vital link of improving community relationships in general. Therefore, one of the main aims of the research is to develop a better understanding of the relationships between cop culture, practice and the acculturation process by exploring the notion of police discretion itself while addressing ASB amongst young people (under 18 years old) in Poland and England. This comparative study examines the course of action taken by 32 serving police officers (16 from England and 16 from Poland) and their explanations for their decision making. It is hoped that the findings will be used to strengthen the capability and accountability of the police service and improve future police training by offering a valuable ‘insight’ into the decision making process and other factors surrounding it.

Theme: Legitimacy and Justice

Dr Karol Konaszewski (University of Białystok)

Resilience, sense of coherence and stress-coping styles in the group of juveniles

The objective of the article is the answer to the question if the level of the sense of coherence and resilience is linked with stress-coping styles in the group of subjects. The study was conducted on a group of 210 juveniles, aged 13-18 years in the case of whom the family court applied the educational means of placing them in the probation centers. The research employed the Life Orientation Questionnaire by Antonovsky, RS14 by Wagnild and the Coping Inventory for Stressful Situations Questionnaire by Endler and Parker. In the group of youth, correlation coefficients indicate a moderate, positive relationship of the sense of coherence and its three components: a sense of comprehensibility, a sense of manageability and a sense of meaningfulness with a task-focused style. Also in the group of juveniles, correlation coefficients indicate a moderate, positive relationship of the resilience and stress coping styles based on problem-solving. The analysis model (regression analyses) showed that the significant predictors of stress-coping styles were sense of coherence and resilience. The results of this study have important implications for social rehabilitation. Future interventions could be based on the strengthening of sense of coherence and resilience in analyzed group.

Theme: Controlling violence and harm in a range of contexts

Joanna Ptak (Jagiellonian University)

On typology of strategies of combating honour-based violence: The case of Germany, the Netherlands and the UK.

Honour-based violence, hereinafter referred to as HBV, is not a new phenomenon, not known previously in the countries of Western Europe before XXI century. Although it is not inclusive as a tradition of any specific society, it has been contextualized as such in the public discourses in countries like Germany, the UK (with special focus given to England & Wales) or the Netherlands. HBV is presented as the problem of various minorities, such as those of Kurdish or Turkish origin and, consequently, as an issue connected with “migration”. As phenomena connected with multiculturalism and criminal policy are a subject of an ongoing, criminological debate, discussion over efficiency of strategies of tackling this kind of violence is of great importance. The main aim of this presentation is to depict a typology of strategies of combating HBV and to discuss them with the use of such factors as universality or possibility of evaluation of their effectiveness. Research methods, which were used in this research, are desk research (analysis of various reports, guidelines, strategies that were prepared by either governmental institutions, police or non-governmental organizations) and expert interviews that were conducted in the Netherlands, the UK and Germany.

Theme: Aspects of financial crime

Paulina Pawluczuk & Iga Kalinowska-Maksim (University of Białystok)

Offenses affecting the proper business trading -based on the own study of young researchers of Białystok School of Criminology

A crime of counterfeiting medicinal products, that consists of introducing such medicines into the legal supply chain, especially through the Internet, is a serious problem affecting not only public health, but also the proper business trading. The own research, based also on the outcomes resulting from cooperation within the ALPhA research project, conducted at the request of the German Ministry for Education and Research, as well as from the project concerning transposition of Article 118a of the Directive 2011/62/EU at issue, conducted for the European Commission, aims at answering lots of important questions. An analysis of the Directive allows the finding that the implemented regulations, may prove to be merely dead letters, as indicated by their detection in Poland. The total number of ascertained offenses is zero, which constitutes proof to the contrary with respect to WHO estimates in this regard. Acting to the detriment of creditors, is the second crime, analysed by the authors. The offense is a relatively new issue, faced by every country. Taking advantage of foreign countries’ legal regulations, investing and depositing financial resources on their markets under a pretence of newly created commercial companies and partnerships causes illegal and uncontrolled cash flows, and is detrimental to the financial system.

Theme: Antisocial behaviour and young people

Dr Karol Konaszewski & Dr Tomasz Sosnowski (University of Białystok)

The big five personality traits and environmental factors as predictors of the antisocial behaviours among juveniles

Background: The article is an analysis of the results of the studies conducted among juveniles (boys and girls) in the case of whom the family court applied the educational means of placing them in the youth educational centers. The aim of the study was to find out the correlations between antisocial behaviours, personality traits and the environmental determinants (support factors and risk factors) among juveniles (boys and girls). Methods: The total of 481 juveniles staying in youth educational centers participated in the study. Applied research tools: The Antisocial Behaviors Scale by L. Pytka, NEO-FFI by P.T. Costa and R.R. McCrae was used to diagnose personality traits included in a popular five-factor model (it has been adapted into Polish by B. Zawadzki, J. Strelau, P. Szczepaniak, and M. Śliwińska) and a questionnaire concerning support factors and risk factors was constructed to measure environmental determinants. The data was analysed in a regression model. Findings: The analysis model showed that the significant predictors of antisocial behaviours were neuroticism, extraversion, conscientiousness and negative relations at school. In girls group the significant predictors of antisocial behaviours were neuroticism, conscientiousness, family support and negative relations at school, while in boys group

Theme: Gendered crimes & gendered challenges

Professor Monika Płatek (Warsaw University)

Violence against women – going the Polish way

The Polish government announced the will to withdraw from the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women. There are thorough efforts to make it look as if the concept of domestic violence and violence against women ceased to exist. The tools used to reach that goal are simple: The President of the country asked not to implement the CoE Convention. President – the man responsible for observing the country law called for the neglect and ignoring of the Convention. The Minister of Justice cut down the funds for the organizations caring for victims of domestic violence. The Minister of Interior decline to support telephone helpline organized to help and prevent domestic violence and violence against women. The idea is that if you deprive the phenomenon of its name it is not supposed to exist. If you stop seeing violence against women, then violence against women ceases to exist. It creates an interesting analytical situation. Michel Foucault pointed out that the naming creates the category. The name invents and generates the existence. What are than the results of wishful blindness? What are the consequences for domestic violence and violence against women; and what are the cost and results?

Theme: Offending and victimisation: different perspectives and contexts

Dr Emilia Jurgielewicz-Delegacz (Faculty of Law, University of Białystok)

Traffic Accidents in Poland and Actions to Improve Road Safety of Blind and Visually Impaired Persons – in the Light of Research Project

Traffic safety has been improving in Poland for several years. The year 2015 was important in this regard as the number of persons who died in traffic accidents in Poland was smaller by 264 and the number of persons injured was smaller by 2 767 than in 2014. In the European traffic safety ranking, prepared by the European Commission (2015), Poland was 3 positions higher than in the previous years. Also, Poland achieved higher than average in Europe drop in the number of deaths in traffic accidents. However, Poland is still facing many difficult tasks on its way to improving the traffic safety level. The research project “Elaboration of a system for detection of hazards to the safety of blind and visually impaired persons with particular focus on road traffic. Criminal law and technological aspects”, headed by prof. Ewa M. Guzik-Makaruk, was carried out by members of Białystok School of Criminology. The project aimed at diagnosing the safety needs of the blind and visually impaired highway users taking into account legal and criminological conditions. It results from the fact that moving freely, in urban places in particular, poses a big challenge for the persons with sight disorders.

Theme: ISRD3 panel 3: Comparative research in delinquency in under-researched countries: Serbia, Poland, Turkey and Cape Verde (ISRD)

Professor Ewa Monika Guzik-Makaruk, Marta Dąbrowska, Przemysław Alkowski, Arkadiusz Dorian Leśniak-Moczuk (University of Białystok, Faculty of Law, Białystok, Poland)

ISRD-3 Study in Poland: preliminary results of the survey conducted by Bialystok School of Criminology

The aim of this presentation is to introduce the preliminary results of ISRD-3 Poland. The goal of this research is to collect data on delinquency and victimization among 7th–9th-grade students as well as explore and test contemporary theoretical approaches in criminology with the additional modules in the questionnaire. This presentation is based on a discussion of challenges in the fieldwork as well as preliminary statistical analysis of Polish ISRD- 3 data. Survey was conducted by Białystok School of Criminology in 2017 in two large polish cities: Białystok and Rzeszow, using the ISRD third-wave standardized questionnaire with national module on grooming added.

Theme: Youth offending

Dr Dagmara Woźniakowska-Fajst (University of Warsaw, Polish Academy of Sciences)

The criminal careers of juvenile girls and multi-problems families

During studies on juvenile girls delinquency the author examined nearly 900 court files of crimes committed by girls in 2000. These big groups of juveniles were checked twice (in 2010 and 2015) for their further criminal career. The Polish studies show that there are a few models of criminal career. Except the group of girls who haven’t been convicted for any crime, we can distinguish three groups of recidivists: “early recidivists” who committed crimes in a few years after having case as a juvenile and stopped their criminal career (45%), “late recidivists” (32%) who hadn’t been sentenced in 10 years after having a case a juvenile, but committed crime later and “permanent recidivists” (23%) who were committing crimes for whole 15 years after their case in 2000. The studies on criminal career show also that long criminal career is positively correlated with growing up in multi-problem family.

Theme: Crime control policy: development and reform

Professor Wojciech Zalewski (Faculty of Law and Administration, University of Gdansk)

Paradoxes of the Current Criminal Policy

Do we really have criminal policy in Europe or in particular country like Poland, for example? In the Cambridge Dictionary “policy” is defined as “a set of ideas or a plan of what to do in particular situations that have been agreed to officially by a group of people, a business organization, a government, or a political party”. Have we got “a plan” concerning current criminal policy? I doubt it. But, if the first answer is “yes” anyway, we have to ask other important questions. What are the most effective policies for reducing crime nowadays? How can we effectively enhance public safety in current times? We know that what we really need is criminal policy concentrated not only on risk assessment, not only cost – effective, but inclusive as well. How to achieve this goal without “a plan”? This is the main paradox of the current criminal policy, but there are many others.

Theme: Minority prisoners

Dr Konrad Buczkowski & Dr Paulina Wiktorska (The Institute of Law Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences)

Foreigners in Polish prisons. The law and practice of taking into account cultural differences

Polish executive law allows for the possibility of implementing an individualised approach to imprisonment in a system encompassing programmed, therapeutic or normal rehabilitation. Polish laws take into full account the Convention’s standards on the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1984 and the European Prison Rules issued by the Council of Europe. There are no specific provisions in Polish legislation relating to the imprisonment of foreigners, however, the guarantees of respect for dignity and cultural distinctiveness arise directly from the general principles for imprisonment. The number of foreigners incarcerated in Polish prisons is small. Every year, approximately 7,000 foreigners are convicted in Poland. Of this group, on average, 300 are serving a prison sentence. In our presentation we will outline the characteristics of this group of convicted criminals based on the available statistical data and in relation to the regulations in effect in Poland.

Theme: Methodological perspectives in criminology

Dr Przemysław Piotrowski & Dr Stefan Florek (Jagiellonian University in Krakow)

Methodological and ethical dilemmas of research conducted in prison

Research involving prisoners is an important source of data in criminology. At the same time, however, there are many factors that affect the reliability and credibility of data obtained from inmates. Authors will point to selected advantages and limitations of the most commonly used research methods (questionnaires, interviews, methods using computer devices). Some issues related to the ethical aspect of research involving prisoners will also be raised.

Dr Stefan Florek & Dr Przemysław Piotrowski (The Department of Forensic Psychology and Criminology, Institute of Applied Psychology, Faculty of Management and Social Communication, Jagiellonian University in Kraków)

Values of criminals: a cognitive-evolutionary approach

It is quite evident that behavior of an individual, including criminal behavior, is to some extent determined by her or his hierarchy of values. In cognitive science, the mind is considered as an information processing system directed towards the realization of goals or values that the individual may or may not be aware of. Evolutionary psychology explains what goals people are not aware of and what is the cause of it. Adopting a cognitive-evolutionary perspective, we will discuss the ways to explore and study the offenders’ hierarchy of (conscious and unconscious) values. In particular, we will refer to the possibility of reconstructing this hierarchy on the basis of analysis of offenders’ narratives. We will also present some of our initial findings concerning the interdependencies between offenders’ value systems and their crimes.

Theme: Risk & communication

Professor Izabela Nowicka (Police Academy in Szczytno)

Pathologies in communication in hierarchical organizations

More than a century ago, around 1903, Frederick Winslow Taylor distinguished one of the cognitive areas – management. Despite this fact, it was not stated that it did not exist earlier. If that were the case, primitive people would not be able to hunt, cultivate, sediment, classify, or prevent any emerging aberrations in large groups. The publication deals with management issues in hierarchical organization. The consequences of the occurrence of social pathologies also apply to the organization as a specific social construct. Management is the process that drives an organization to achieve its goals efficiently and effectively. Efficiency means a positive ratio of effort towards results (mini-loss). One of the elements in achieving this efficiency is the right communication in the publication between elements of the organization. Pathology as any dysfunction in an organization does not allow achieving realistic, defined for an organization and in accordance with the social welfare of the objectives at the assumed time and with specified means. The material was prepared under the project entitled “Building an information system supporting communication in the Police and other services subordinated to the Ministry of Interior in the aspect of internal security”,

Theme: Key themes in contemporary youth justice

Professor Irena Rzeplińska (Institute of Law Studies Polish Academy of Sciences)

Criminal record: the future lives of ex-juvenile delinquents

Some juvenile delinquents tried for punishable acts before a youth court commit crimes and receive sentences in their future lives – a fact established by criminology. In my paper I will present findings concerning former juvenile delinquents (a representative sample of Polish juvenile delinquents tried before youth courts in 2000) fifteen years after – their criminal activity as adults over the course of a decade roughly until the age of 30.I am interested in how juveniles stay within the criminal community and whether criminal activity is an important part of their lives. I will analyse the types of crimes committed, the “specialization” of perpetrators, whether they commit one or many different types of crimes, multiple offenders, and the structure of the group as compared to the overall structure of criminality in Poland. What do the types of crimes committed by former juvenile delinquents tell us about their lives as members of society, of families, and about private lives? What are their political, social and economic circumstances as adult offenders, and what does their criminal activity tell us about them as members of the criminal milieu ?

Theme: Prison life and prison resettlement

Professor Beata Gruszczyńska (University of Warsaw)

Life imprisonment in European countries

This article is based on the Council of Europe Annual Penal Statistics SPACE I. The paper uses basic data on prison populations in European countries in absolute numbers and coefficients per 100 000 population. The percentage of women in prison is also reported. The methodological aspects of the collection of European penitentiary data relating to various criminal systems and reporting systems were also discussed. The main part of the study is the statistical image of prisoners serving life imprisonment. Comparing penal statistics in 2006 and 2015, analysis shows that their numbers have increased significantly (almost one third), despite decreasing the crime trend (including homicides). The percentage of women who have been sentenced to life imprisonment has also been shown. It is important to discuss the future of criminal policy, the penalty of deprivation of liberty, in particular the penalty of life imprisonment, which on the one hand deals with moral, ethical and human rights issues, on the other hand – in the context of the brutalization of crimes, terrorist attacks and penal populism meets the request of wide judgment.

Theme: The impact of relationships, agency and migration in Human Trafficking Investigations

Dr Klaus Witold & Monika Szulecka (Institute of Law Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences and Centre of Migration Research, University of Warsaw)

Addressing the risks of labour exploitation – the case of Poland

According to 2015 official report on trafficking in human beings, Poland witnessed an important change in trends. After two decades of predomination of sexual exploitation and women among victims, there has been a visible increase in identified cases of forced labour and men as victims. It is worth discussing whether this is the result of work performed by law enforcement and NGOs or it reflects the realities of the phenomena. Taking into account continuous emigration from Poland for economic purposes, and the dramatic increase in inflow of economic migrants it may be expected that the predomination of forced labour will characterise trafficking in Poland in the future. In this context it is important to identify the risks of labour exploitation as a form of THB, and how (if at all) the risk factors are addressed by institutions responsible for combating THB. The existing knowledge and numerous signals of precarious conditions of migrant work imply factors related to, e.g., institutional framework, specificity of the labour market and cultural backgrounds. The analysis will be based on empirical data gathered between 2014-2017, in the project focused on criminality and victimisation of foreigners, and other existing sources.

Theme: Security

Piotr Karasek (University of Warsaw)

Security through restrictions. A brief history of countering terrorism.

Terrorism is often perceived as one of the most serious threats to contemporary societies, justifying various legislative responses. In the wake of a terrorist attack, governments often respond by introducing new (or harsher than before) restrictions on civil liberties. All such actions, of course, seek to reduce the threat level and to enhance public security. This approach is hardly innovative – governments have been trying to achieve security through restrictions as long as terrorism itself exist. While specific extreme ideologies and their objectives change, terrorism has been troubling western countries since at least the end of XIXth century. Methods used by terrorists in different times are often surprisingly similar. For example, contemporary ‘lone wolf terrorism’ tactics closely resemble the ‘propaganda of the deed’ promoted by anarchists over a century ago. An analysis of the history of countering terrorism shows that repressive actions and restrictions did not succeed in resolving the problem in the past, and there is little evidence it does today. Proposed presentation explores the subject of countering terrorism through restrictions and repressive actions from a historical perspective.

Theme: Youth justice in comparative perspective

Justyna Włodarczyk-Madejska (Department of Criminology The Institute of Law Studies of the Polish Academy of Science and the Institute of Justice)

Aims of proceeding in juvenile cases in the court practice

Proposed speech is a summary of the research project realized in The Institute of Law Studies of the Polish Academy of Science. In the course of project, there was conducted national surveys addressed to juvenile judges, professional family probation officers, experts from diagnostic teams (total 961 responses) and the individual in-depth interviews with selected representatives of these groups (total 30). The aim of my speech is to present the results of the researches, the mainly the answer on the question: how do juvenile courts realize in practice the aims of the Act on Proceeding in Juvenile Cases. Researches, in the application of law, have been considered particularly important because the law obliges the juvenile judges to collect information about juvenile and his/her environment – directly or indirectly (by supporting institutions). During the presentation, I will also address the following issues: 1) in which cases the juvenile judges commission to prepare a diagnostic opinion in which – an environmental interview, 2) what questions the juvenile judges refer to the diagnostic teams and to the professional family probation officers, 3) do juvenile judges suggest the recommendations of diagnostic teams and professional family probation officers regarding to application of educational or corrective measures.

Theme: Courts, lawyers and criminal justice in the European context

Dr Paulina Wiktorska & Dr Konrad Buczkowski (Institute of Law Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences)

Lawyers about the law and their profession in Polish changing political reality

Lawyers are responsible for crime control and monitoring compliance with the law in society. Research of classic legal profession; judges, prosecutors, advocates shows how they understand the law, functions of the law and how they identify with their profession. This paper describes problems of contemporary law and the results of this, the difficulty of working in the legal professions. This is based on research reflection on the competences of the legal profession. In contemporary Poland we have problem with legal relation between political institutions and lawyers especially courts. It is obvious that a large area exist where courts operate, but governments and parliaments also make decisions but polish government uses the law to realization political interests mainly. Various elements may help to explain this situation. We try discuss some of them.

The role of a court guardian in family court proceedings in Poland

Dr Lukasz Kwadrans (University of Silesia in Katowice)

The role of a court guardian in family court proceedings in Poland

What has been undertaken in this report is presenting the profile of a part of the tasks of guardianship service in Poland. Its family division is described – the work of guardians who execute the adjudicated decisions. In compliance with the legal regulations, the tasks of family guardians are indicated which are associated with the execution of decisions and orders of family courts. It should be emphasized that diagnostic activities (environmental interviews) do not constitute the dominant part of the duties due to a different role of Polish court guardians from the British social services. Family guardians in Poland are mostly an executive organ of the court and their activity is associated entirely with executing decisions and consists in educational and re-socialization activities.

Theme: Perspectives on organised crime

Professor Jacek Dworzecki (Police Academy in Szczytno)

The Central Investigation Bureau of the Police in the fight against organized crime

The first part of material presents the tasks and the structure of the CIB. In the material there have been used research methods in the form of diagnostic survey, legislative act analysis and the available subject literature. The results of the diagnostic survey conducted with the policemen, shows that the changes in the character of organized crime in the last fifteen years. Its present form as well as the direction in which it will develop are discussed. Then material presents the opinion of the interviewees on excluding the CIB from the structures of the PH. It discusses the factors which, have a negative impact on the work of functionaries. Also, the opinion on the training courses, technical equipment and cooperation of the CIB policemen with other institutions has been described. Creating the organizational unit enabled the Police to increase its manager’s entitlements in applying a more efficient personnel policy on police officers and employees of the Police on duty or employed in the CIB. This material was prepared within the framework of an international research project entitled “Understand the Dimensions of Organised Crime and Terrorist Networks for Developing Effective and Efficient Security Solutions for First-line-practitioners and Professionals”

Theme: Criminology in Europe – Białystok School of Criminology

Katarzyna Ciulkin-Sarnocińska (University in Białystok, Faculty of Law)

Surrogacy in the research in Białystok school of Criminal Law

The study looks into the research conducted within the Białystok school of Criminal Law relating to the attitudes of adult population of Poland to surrogacy, which hitherto has not been the focus of any monograph. The population sample (N=1000) was representative in terms of sex, age, and residence. The project was conducted using a quantitative method in the form of a telephone questionnaire (CATI). The Computer Assisted Telephone Interview was consisted in telephone conversations with respondents during which the interviewer enters the subject’s responses into an online questionnaire form. The study also utilized a Voice over IP (VoIP) system. The questionnaire consisted in seven demographic questions and ten main study questions, and was conducted on 23-29 May 2017. The results of the study indicate that the majority of Poles knows of the concept of surrogacy. Fewer than one in ten Poles know someone who used the services of a surrogate mother. Only several percent of Poles were in contact with surrogate mothers. More than 1/10 of the population is convinced of the legality of surrogacy. The conducted research is the first comprehensive study into the phenomenon of surrogacy.

Professor Emil Plywaczewski & Professor Ewa Guzik-Makaruk (Faculty of Law, University of Białystok)

New approach of criminology in the light of Białystok School of Criminology

After the Second World War significance of criminology has been marginalized. The history begins in the 6o’s of twentieth century. Criminology was introduced in law teaching programs mostly as optional subjecct. Only some law faculties introduced it as obligatory subject. Broad spectrum of research on issues of science criminology in many institutions, centers and academic institutions was an eloquent proof of the dynamic development of criminology in Poland at that time. Currently, as is commonly known – in the US criminology is a part of the departments of sociology, while in Europe it involves the law faculties. The particular note is an achievement that is probably the most important one, if not revolutionary, to the contemporary status of criminology in Poland. The subject that so far has been considered as marginal in the teaching process, as a field of science. The high evaluation of the scientific and research achievements of the staff of the Criminal Law and Criminology of the Faculty of Law University of Białystok – Białystok School of Criminology.

Emilia Truskolaska & Ewelina Wojewoda (University of Białystok)

Achievements of Young Criminologist of Białystok School of Criminology

At the beginning of speech, speakers will introduce to other works and researchers, but this time regarding works of young criminologist. Activity of young scientist towards the development of criminology is one of the priorities of Criminology School Białystok. Young people lead a pioneering research regarding such a subjects as parental kidnapping or criminological aspects of homeless people, which the main idea will be presented in the speech. Moreover one of the most important event that have been organized by young scholars took place at the Faculty of Law, University of Białystok on 19-20 May 2016. It was a pioneering project at the national level under the title International Forum of Young Criminologists. Thanks to this idea Criminology School Białystok created a first research platform for the exchange of experiences of young criminologists. The aim of the Forum was to integrate the group of young scientists representing different fields and also to create a place for them to substantive exchange of information, experience and research achievements in the field of criminology.

Theme: Cross-national perspectives in crime and sanctions

Mr Bartosz Kędzierski (University of Gdansk, Institute of Criminology)

Electronic Monitoring of Offenders in Poland: Evaluation Research

According to rule no. 40 of Recommendation CM/Rec (2014)4 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on electronic monitoring- research and independent evaluation and monitoring shall be carried out in order to help national authorities take informed decisions regarding the ethical and professional aspects of the use of electronic monitoring in the criminal process. After several years of polish experiences with EM we can construct some conclusions. Current usage of EM in Poland shows that our system is placed on important position in Europe, but we have only basic statistical data prepared by Central Prison Service Office. To this moment no EM system evaluation has been performed. In this paper author will present current problems with EM in Poland in the light of author’s evaluation research grant.

For more information on the conference programme please visit the following webpage: EuroCrim 2017 Cardiff



Drunk cycling

The offence of drunk cycling is an interesting feature of the Polish penal landscape as riding a bicycle after drinking alcohol has become a common practice which for many years was severely penalized. The offence was criminalized in Poland in 2000, and sentences ranged from a fine to two years of imprisonment. Łączek (2012) explored this phenomenon and based his analysis on police data from 2011. He concluded that the situation of the drunk cyclists was reminiscent of a witch-hunt. He compared the number of accidents involving drunk drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians and observed that the number of stops, in contravention of Article 178 of the Polish Penal Code, between 2001 and 2010 involving drunk drivers and cyclist were very similar (670 000 and 600 000 respectively). However, it is drunk drivers who pose a significantly higher risk to third parties. While drunk cyclists cause injuries to other parties only in 7.5% of all accidents, for drunk drivers this number equals 42%. Drunk cyclists and pedestrians pose a risk mainly to themselves (in approximately 98% of cases they are both victim and offender). In 2011 there were 2118 accidents caused by drunk drivers compared to 213 caused by drunk cyclists in Poland. Given the fact that drunk drivers pose a significantly higher threat on the road, Łączek (2012) analysed the sentencing patterns and observed that the sentencing guidelines for drunk cycling were highly disproportionate compared to the risk posed by drunk driving. According to the Polish Prison Service (Centralny Zarząd Służby Więziennej), approximately 50 000 prisoners each year were sentenced to imprisonment for drunk cycling. After thirteen years in operation the relevant legal provision was overruled, and drunk cycling became partially decriminalized (from offence to misdemeanour) which resulted in a prison amnesty for many ‘cyclists’ who were behind bars at the time.


Juliusz Ćwieluch, Nietrzeźwy układ artykułów [The intoxicated deal of sections], Polityka – no 46 (2933), date of publication 2013-11-13; p. 16-18.

Łączek, A. (2012) Pijani sprawcy wypadków – kto szkodzi głównie sobie, a kto innym? [Drunk road traffic offenders – who does pose more risk to oneself and who does to others?] Available at:


Judicial reforms in Poland – getting the public on board

Poland has seen widespread national demonstrations against hotly-debated changes to the judicial system that have been portrayed as a move toward authoritarian rule. There’s a lot at stake. The three reforms, if implemented, would give the minister of justice and MPs broad powers to select, appoint and dismiss Supreme Court judges as well as judges in lower courts. Although the governing right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party has justified the reforms as being necessary to make the Polish judiciary efficient and restore public confidence in the justice system, the changes would significantly strengthen government influence over courts and damage the separation of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial branches.

The Polish protesters have been praised for achieving a victory and influencing the President’s decision to veto two out of the three proposed reforms. And what is of great interest to me is the involvement and role of the public in these events. In my recently defended PhD thesis, I argued that criminal justice systems are, to a certain extent, mirrors of societies because justice processes (and their reforms too) reflect the context in which they occur. It is true that the majority of Poles oppose a politicised judiciary. However, there is something that has been lost in translation – that the Polish public’s exceptionally low trust in the country’s criminal justice system is a well-known feature of the Polish legal culture.

Whereas the public perception of the police has improved over time in Poland, trust in courts and the prosecution service has fluctuated significantly and deteriorated overall. In the latest 2017 CBOS opinion poll on people’s views of the Polish criminal justice system, the overwhelming majority of respondents (51%) expressed a negative view toward the Polish criminal justice system, and only 36% held a positive view. This negative trend has been gradually increasing since 2008, when 44% of respondents were of a generally positive opinion, compared to 2017The latest opinion poll also revealed that only 38% of respondents had reservations regarding judges’ impartiality.

The same opinion poll included questions on potential criminal justice pitfalls. Among the most frequently indicated problems in the Polish criminal justice system, the respondents pointed to the excessive time taken to complete court proceedings (48%), the complexity of court procedures (33%), judicial corruption (30%), courts’ leniency (23%), sentencing based on insufficient evidence (15%), notorious court delays (15%), high costs (13%), poor information sharing between courts (11%), and poor court management (11%). Interestingly, the 2017 opinion poll (carried out in March this year) also included questions about the proposed changes to how judges are elected for the National Council of the Judiciary. The responses suggest Polish society is divided on the issue as only 37% of respondents were against the idea of judges being selected by the Parliament, 33% supported the change, and 30% did not have an opinion.

I found similar negative views about the Polish criminal justice system in my doctoral research. When interviewees spoke about the Polish courts, one of the most prominent deficiencies identified in the Polish criminal justice system was the excessive length of court proceedings – something that resonates with a well-known legal maxim that ‘justice delayed is justice denied’. Among my participants there was a strong perception of ‘unfair’ sentencing and their understanding of justice was that of a privilege for the rich, who can effortlessly evade justice, and as oppression for the poor who were seen as ‘easy prey’.

There are a number of potential interpretations as to why people’s trust in courts is so low in Poland. The post-1989 changes in the judicial system brought recognition of human rights, but also less punitive sentencing policies than under socialism. The exceptionally lengthy court proceedings may still derive from the sudden and significant increase in the volume of court cases post-1989. Some Polish scholars have pointed out that the low trust in courts/prosecution might indicate widespread expectations of harsh sentencing and, by extension, speak to the punitiveness of society at large. Others have argued that the difference between views on the police and criminal justice system lies in how these agencies have handled their public image.

For example, Polish police forces, since the beginning of the transformation process, have carefully managed their contact with the Polish media and appointed a number of press officers, while the courts’ press service has not developed in such a way. The result has been the development of a less favourable view of the court system among lay people. Moreover, my participants’ accounts on the administration of justice were strongly interwoven with the post-1989 transformations. Not all Polish citizens participated in post-1989 privatisation processes, and this unequal privatisation of property strongly affected the sense of social justice that has been steadily projected onto people’s understandings of the administration of justice in Poland.

Finally, among all the recent acts of protest, what arguably has the greatest value is the initiative of public consultations, launched by the Polish Judges Association “IUSTITIA”, to consider and discuss amendments to the Polish criminal justice system. Speedy delivery of heavily politically charged reforms à la PiS has proven not to be the best way forward to change public perceptions of the justice system. However, it might indeed set the groundwork for energising the Polish public, making their input valuable for improving the quality of criminal justice processes, and long-term hopefully increasing their confidence in the Polish justice system.

Let the waters calm – this is still democracy in the making.

The original version of this article was published at LSE European Politics and Policy Blog.

Photo credit: PO RP (CC-BY-SA-2.0)

Police methods for the ‘disobedient’

Following up from last week’s post let me say a few more words in relation to my participants’ nostalgic sentiments after the use of force by the police under communism. One of the male interviewees provided insights into one of the popular techniques used by militia officers at the time. Ścieżka zdrowia” [back translation: fitness course] was a police method of control. It involved two lanes of police officers on each side, who were armed with batons, and the arrestees had to walk between them so the police officers could cosh them along the lanes. It is believed that the method was inherited from the 19th-century Russian military. In Briazilian Portuguese this sort of punishment (or even torture) is commonly known as  corredor polonês, which translates as the ‘Polish corridor’.


The ‘good’ old days of policing …

One of the things that struck me most during my Ph.D. fieldwork was to hear from my participants (mostly the senior ones) how much they longed for the presence of a militia-like local community police officer (dzielnicowy) and the ‘good’ old days of policing under socialism. Although the institution of dzielnicowy has remained in place over the years, my participants noticed a change in how the role is performed. The past image of such a policeman was of an officer who was known in the neighbourhood, was frequently deployed to conduct police patrols, (and was thus highly visible to local people), talked to ordinary people and was ‘known by name’. This melancholic longing for ‘glowing days of socialist policing’ was interwoven with another perceived advantage of the old system – people’s personal sense of security. Although this sense of security was often maintained by the militia through the use of force, most participants expressed the support for its continuation by the Polish police nowadays.

The past is always distorted to some extent, and always seen as better days. In the context of the Polish socialist past, it is the ‘policing the politics’ that is most relevant when it comes to reflecting on the nature of ‘visible’ foot patrols and other social initiatives that were routinely infiltrated. The role of the police under the communist regime was to enforce obedience to the state. The socialist militia under the communist regime maintained a Soviet-style functioning and performed actions of social and political control that aimed at serving the needs of the party rather than communities. The nature of policing at the time was based on secret police and militia as well as an extended network of informants. Uildriks and Van Reenen (2003), in their very informative book Policing Post-Communist Societies, noticed that part of the undercover work of the militia was not crime prevention or maintenance of social order as such, but the prevention of the development of political dissidents. They argued that in spite of frequent and close contact between the militia and lay people, the intention of maintaining such close relationships was to prevent the risk of political opposition to the state and to the socialist party.

Next, participants’ acclamation of the use of force might suggest that citizens of  post-conflict societies might become anaesthetized to the effects of violence. On the other hand, Uildriks & Van Reenen (2003) suggest that, apart from suppressing nationalist or religious mass movements, the actual level of force used by militias in the former Eastern European communist countries was probably low, as the states had other, less visible and formal, ways of enforcing obedience.

One thing is certain though. Post-communist nostalgia has been well documented and recognized as a distinctive phenomenon (see Todorova & Gille, 2010). Participants’ nostalgic views on the militia convey a broader longing for security, stability, prosperity, and quest for dignity. This particular attitude occurs only because the past is irreversible, as argued by Pine (2002) when people evoke the ‘good socialist times’ they only choose to remember the good aspects of the system (e.g. full employment, universal healthcare and education, economic security), post-communist nostalgic sentiments do not indicate that the bad aspects of the system were forgotten (e.g. corruption, food shortages, infringements of the state) (ibid.).

Nonetheless, the post-socialist nostalgia after militia is not only a distorted recreation of the past that kept my participants from the truth of the present but also indicates a refusal to see and acknowledge where the Polish police are now. And they have come a long way.


Pine, F. (2002) Retreat to the Household? Gender Domains in Post-Socialist Poland, in: Ch. Hann (eds.) Postsocialism: Ideals, Ideologies, and Practices in EurasiaLondon: Routledge.
Todorova, M. & Gille, Z (2010) Post-Communist Nostalgia. Oxford: Berghahn Books.
Uildriks, N. & Van Reenen, P. (2003) Policing Post-Communist Societies: Police-Public Violence, Democratic Policing and Human Rights. Oxford: Intersentia.







A wolf in sheep’s clothing? – the value of lay opinion

Today, lay people are predominantly referred to as ‘the public’ and their views, for the purpose of generalisability, are usually gathered through public opinion surveys. Contrary to the dominant methodological trends, in my doctoral research I decided to rely on qualitative interviews that aimed to delineate how a number of Polish lay people with different experiences understand punishment and justice. The choice to refer to lay opinion as the source of my data was frequently challenged throughout my Ph.D. years. Therefore, in response to this criticism I present three important themes running through discussions on the significance of lay people’s views and my justification for lay views as the basis for my study. Continue reading “A wolf in sheep’s clothing? – the value of lay opinion”