Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

Organizational Experiences of Performance Targeting: Police, Prisons & Probation

Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

Organizational Experiences of Performance Targeting: Police, Prisons & Probation

Article excerpt


At the Diversity in a Performance Culture Conference in June 2008, representatives from the three central criminal justice agencies presented workshop papers on their respective organization's approach to and experience of working with performance targets. Each workshop was held twice with the intention of including as many delegates to the conference as possible, and discussion drew on their wide-ranging experiences to develop a critique of the aims and value of performance targets within the criminal justice system.

It was clear from the presentations that different agencies held some similar but also some radically dissimilar views. Interpretations of the concept of 'performance' differed not only between the agencies but also across time within a single agency. This is not new: as early as 1992 the Institute of Personnel Managements research analysis indicated that 'one organisation's appraisal system was another's performance management system' (p.137). Often the concepts behind different approaches are implicit. As a result, it can be assumed that other agencies that use the same terms are essentially doing and focusing on the same things when the whole picture is more diverse. Such assumptions of uniformity and synchronicity can create difficulties, the most obvious being in the field of inter-agency working which, in itself, can be one of the performance targets set within each agency. Problems arise when each of the agencies involved takes a different approach to performance management. Nash (1998) makes this point when comparing the police and prison services: both work to an ethos of managing risk and protecting the public, but both approach the day-to-day exercise or implementation of that ethos differently. While commentators have argued that management of agency performance through the use of targets and appraisal is now a fact of life (Loveday: 1999, Flynn: 1997, Carter: 1995, Napo: 1989) the extent to which they have been embraced and understood on both an organisational and a personal level varies. Nor is it simply a difference in terms of practice; debate and dispute arises over the value of target setting even before the arguments about how it should be done.

However, performance targets are a familiar part of the landscape of the criminal justice system. The intention of the conference was twofold: to explore implications of performance targeting in the field of diversity, and to explore similarities and differences between different agencies in their performance culture. It could be expected that these three services would share some experiences, even if Loveday's (1999:353) picture of the criminal justice system as a 'fractious, often mutually contradictory melange of competing interests' is accepted. The workshop leaders, representing both their own experience and their agencies' approach to an issue of practice and diversity, have contributed their own analysis. The aim of this paper is to elucidate the differences as well as the similarities in approach and practice between the three represented agencies as they emerged during the conference workshops, and to locate the arguments identified in a wider theoretical arena. As author I begin by presenting the leaders' own accounts of the material presented. The next section synthesizes and develops the discussions that took place, incorporating the contributions and ideas put forward by the Trainee Probation Officers, academics and criminal justice practitioners who attended the workshops. The conclusion represents my own analysis of the arguments as presented 'on the day'.

Workshop Leaders' Accounts

The first workshop account reflects the position of the police services, which has been in the forefront of change around diversity since the murder of Stephen Lawrence in April 1993. The publication of the Macpherson report (1999) into the killing can be seen as a defining moment in race relations within the police force, offering a critical view of policing and introducing the concept of institutional racism. …

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