Probation Practice and the New Penology: Practitioner Reflections

Probation Practice and the New Penology: Practitioner Reflections

Probation Practice and the New Penology: Practitioner Reflections

Probation Practice and the New Penology: Practitioner Reflections

Synopsis

The criminal justice system has been in a state of flux in recent decades, accompanied by growing levels of insecurity and intolerance of crime and offenders among the general population. Along with government policy and practice, these developments are seen as contributing to an increasingly punitive system that imprisons more than ever before and seeks to punish and manage offenders in the community, rather than to attempt their rehabilitation. For these reasons, along with a loss of faith in rehabilitation, the probation service is now described by many as having become a law enforcement agency, charged by government with the assessment and management of risk, the protection of the public and the management and punishment of offenders, rather than their transformation into pro-social citizens. This book explores the extent to which practitioners within the National Probation Service for England and Wales and the National Offender Management Service ascribe to the values, attitudes and beliefs associated with these macro and mezzo level changes and how much their practice has changed accordingly. By viewing examples of 'real' practice through the lens of the modernisation of public services, managerialism and theories of organisation change, the book considers how 'real' practice is likely to emerge as something unpredictable and perhaps different from the intentions of both government/management and practitioners.

Excerpt

Since 1907 and its legal inception, the probation service and probation practice has been in a state of change. Some of this has been changes to practice driven by a curiosity amongst practitioners about how to develop more effective ways to help reduce re-offending by and promote the rehabilitation of people who have committed offences. This has been in the main via trying to assist individuals address and overcome a range of personal and structural issues and problems that have been seen as being at the root of their offending, as well as addressing antisocial attitudes and behaviour. This ‘help’ has, it is argued here, been generally offered in a humanistic manner, but has usually been with the ultimate aim of reducing re-offending and not simply for its own sake.

However, changes that have taken place in recent decades have been, in the main, driven by government and management and been about trying to change both the ethos and working practices of the service in rather different directions. Famously, until the Criminal Justice Act (CJA) 1991, probation officers were required to ‘advise, assist and befriend’ those subject to probation, which was itself not a sentence, but an alternative and an opportunity to reform. However, the 1991 Act made the probation order a sentence and a means by which the service was supposed to deliver ‘punishment in the community’. Since then, both Conservative and New Labour governments have sought to toughen up the service and to move it away from ‘help’ and rehabilitation, to punishment, offender management and the protection of the public via the assessment and management of risk, although it is also the case that a reduced commitment to rehabilitation has been retained. Some of this has involved the downplaying of the importance of the individual relationship and the ‘therapeutic’ process that it was intended to engender and the promotion of offender management with interventions delivered to address the ‘behaviour, rather than the person’ as well as some assistance with problems such as drug misuse, unemployment, accommodation etc. Throughout the 1990s and into the new century, these interventions were backed up by a toughening enforcement regime that aimed to ensure that if an individual did not take advantage of the service offered then punitive sanctions would follow. One of the other phenomena of recent decades has been managerialism, which has pervaded the public sector generally. In probation, it has sought to influence and control practitioner behaviour via National Standards, monitoring and audit towards these new aims for the service. However, it has perhaps not been clear to what extent these initiatives have been successful in terms of the transformation of the attitudes and actual practices of probation practitioners and it is these areas upon which this book attempts to throw some light.

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