Probation: Working with Offenders

By Crowther-Dowey, Chris | British Journal of Community Justice, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

Probation: Working with Offenders


Crowther-Dowey, Chris, British Journal of Community Justice


PROBATION: WORKING WITH OFFENDERS

Canton, R. (2011) London: Routledge. 263pp/pbk 24.99 [pounds sterling] ISBN 978-1-84392-373-2

This important book is essential reading for all teachers, researchers, policy makers and practitioners who have an interest in the past, present and futures of probation not only in England and Wales, but also internationally. Published in 2011 some might argue that the book will now be out of date given recent changes in penal policy and its impact on the probation service, not least the payment-by-results agenda and the decision to open up more than 70% of probation work to the commercial and voluntary and community sectors. Indeed the title of the 16th Annual Bill McWilliams Memorial Lecture to be delivered by Professor Paul Senior in June 2013 suggests that the increased privatisation of probation may well sound the 'death knell' of the organisation. This concern is not unfounded and there are arguably few reasons for optimism. However, a particular strength of Canton's book is that despite the vulnerability of the organisation itself, not only in recent times, but over the course of its history, it makes a case for the resilience of probation values and ethics. Even if the structure, roles and responsibilities of the probation service are to be transformed, yet again, questions about the purpose of punishment and big issues such as justice, fairness and human rights will not go away.

Probation is marketed as an introductory text and it certainly delivers what one would reasonably expect for this type of product. In terms of the coverage of the book and its pedagogic features it deserves to be adopted as a core text for any course or module, which examines probation. Throughout the book Canton appraises various aspects of probation with reference to the themes of theory, policy and practice. The opening chapters provide comprehensive overviews of the emergence and evolution of the probation service and probation values. This historical context sets the scene nicely for considering a range of issues such as the centrality of sentencing to probation work. Probation practice is explored in depth as Canton evaluates 'what works' in offender management. There are excellent chapters focusing on desistance and the salience of risk assessment and management for public protection and community safety. Importantly the book never loses sight of the relationship between probation and the wider criminal justice system but especially the prison. All of these points demonstrate the value of the book but it has two additional strengths.

Firstly, there is a very welcome comparative perspective on probation demonstrated by Canton's appreciation of the resonance of probation values, pioneered in England and Wales, in other countries. It is often easy to forget the variations that can be found if we look at Scotland and Northern Ireland, but there are some important lessons to be learnt by acknowledging what is going on in Europe and the potential for policy transfer. A vital observation outlined by Canton is that probation values are of universal relevance even if the organisational structures in different jurisdictions bear little resemblance to each other.

Secondly, and most crucially, it develops a unique conceptual framework and argument, which draws on several influential currents in contemporary penological thinking. …

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