Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

Probation in the News: Transforming Rehabilitation

Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

Probation in the News: Transforming Rehabilitation

Article excerpt

Introduction

This article analyses the media debate around the Coalition Government's response to the Transforming Rehabilitation consultation in which plans to outsource work with low and medium risk offenders were outlined (Ministry of Justice, 2013). The reforms, which will only apply to England and Wales, will allow for private and voluntary organisations to deliver supervision, offender management and specific interventions to offenders, work that is currently the primary responsibility of publicly funded Probation Trusts. Around 70% of Probation Trusts' work will be outsourced. The new system will use a payment by results system by which contract holders will receive payment if they can show to have reduced reoffending amongst their client group.

These reforms have, perhaps unsurprisingly, been received with considerable anger and challenge by interested parties with a media campaign being created by the National Association of Probation Officers (Napo) and probation staff speaking out on social media such as Twitter (although they have since been barred from expressing their dismay (Travis, 2013d). In addition to this, representatives of Probation Trusts have outlined their concerns about the reforms in local newspapers, Police and Crime Commissioners have spoken out about the reforms and the House of Lords voted in favour of an amendment requiring the Offender Rehabilitation Bill to be passed by the House of Commons before being enacted. In response, the Government has been active in putting forward its arguments in favour of the reforms with Chris Grayling, the Minister for Justice, appearing on news programmes, answering questions to parliament, appearing in front of the Justice Committee and writing in newspapers. All of this means that probation has had a greater media presence than in recent years, where it has primarily been the subject of attention in the context of well publicised failures (Maruna, 2007). Importantly, both 'sides'1 have explicitly engaged with the media with Napo's aforementioned media campaign leading the media engagement for opponents to the reforms, and evidence from a leaked 'risk register' suggesting that the Government has tried to mitigate the likelihood of a successful opposition campaign by 'media messaging to keep elements of reform at the top of the agenda' (Travis, 2013c).

This article presents an analysis of the ways in which opponents and supporters of the reforms have constructed their cases, arguing that the Government has made appeals to the 'emotive' (Maruna & King, 2004) element of probation whilst opponents have played a defensive game which risks failing to garner sufficient public support for the continuing existence of a public probation service. The arguments for and against the reforms have centred upon three main points: the potential effectiveness of the reforms, their aims, and the underlying rationale. With regards to the first point we see the Government's complex system of payment by results being simplified by the media to the extent that it becomes hard to argue against the headline message that the reforms are all about rehabilitation. In relation to the aims of the reforms, we see opponents forced to focus on the public protection side of probation whilst the Government highlights and makes use of the ways in which the reforms will (allegedly) reduce reoffending. In this context, the article considers the concepts of public protection and reducing reoffending which, despite being two interrelated and interdependent concepts, are understood and interpreted in very particular ways by the general public. The arguments around the underlying rationale centre upon whether the reforms are intended to save money (the Government's line) or are simply a ruse to allow greater profiteering by the private sector (the opponents' claims). The article concludes by considering alternative strategies for opposing the reforms and reflects upon the ways in which arguments have centred around what Canton (2012) refers to as the 'taken-for-granted' aims of probation. …

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