Russell Webster - Work with Offenders
Work with offenders looks at how the reunified service is settling down.
After all the changes to probation over the last decade – the privatisation and fragmentation implemented by Transforming Rehabilitation and the reunification to one national public body last summer – what’s it like working for the Probation Service as it enters its first New Year as a new entity?
Anne Burrell, who still works in probation alongside doing a PhD researching professional identity in probation, has written a thought-provoking blog post on the subject posted on the British Criminology Society website (which you can read in full here). .
As Ms Burrell says, reunification was mainly celebrated across the criminal justice community by both probation staff and third sector organisations working in partnership with the service. There was a feeling that probation was “coming home” in returning to being a totally public service and that there would be inevitable gains from no longer having a split service with people on probation falling down the gaps between what was the National Probation Service and the 21 private Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs).
However it is also clear that being part of a centralised civil service is very different to having the autonomy which the 35 Probation Trusts possessed before the upheavals of Transforming Rehabilitation (TR). Needless to say the change process has been contaminated by the impact of the pandemic and almost two years of people working remotely to different extents. As well as the obvious difficulties which we have all experienced when working from home for much of the time, it has been difficult for staff to really feel part of a new organisation without the chance to talk informally and socialise with new colleagues as opposed to participating in a thousand Teams meetings.
Mind the aspiration gap
As Ms Burrell says, there is a welcome change to the language of probation in the new Target Operating Model (TOM) which speaks more to the professional values and culture of probation staff in being more inclusive and is straightforward about saying that we should invest in more, better trained probation staff with their professional skills and judgments being integral to the work of probation. However, she also points out that there is, at least currently, rather a large gap between the aspirations set out in TOM and the day-to-day realities of working life.
The new probation service is clearly still very much an organisation in transition but Ms Burrell and other justice commentators raise a number of key challenges including:
As Ms Burrell writes, it is possible to be optimistic about the future of probation while still retaining a health scepticism about the challenges which lie ahead.