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Building probation capacity
Leo Tigges & Stephen Pitts on building probation capacity

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Building probation role and capacity

Although you wouldn’t know it from following the election campaign, there is an international consensus among bodies such as the United Nations and Council of Europe that we should reduce the number of people in prison and that the key to achieving this is to develop more (and better) non-custodial alternatives.

Leo Tigges and Stephen Pitts recently undertook a European study to understand how probation capacity can be developed by looking at its growth in five European countries including England and Wales.

A language of capacity building

The researchers developed a model or “language” of capacity building to support discussion and capacity building practice.The model provides a tool to explore the present probation situation and potential in a jurisdiction, to plan development, and over time gain insight into change. The model helps to explain probation roles or activities (the four “domains” of probation) and what needs to be in place to enable delivery – the organisational conditions (or “enablers”). In short – “a strong probation role and a strong probation organisation.” The model, illustrated in the infographic reproduced below, has international applicability.  Most current activity was found in Domain 2 (post court sentence). Strengthened guidance and activity in domains 1 and 3/4 has potential to influence features such as pre-trial detention and sentence proportionality, parole decision making, transition, and reintegration.

Critical success factors

The researchers identified 10 probation capacity building “success factors”.

  1. A collaborative, partnership approach – based on knowledge exchange and equality, empowering the beneficiary country to build capacity by addressing identified needs, to create a tailored approach.
  2. Creating and communicating a shared vision or aspiration regarding probation’s potential contribution.
  3. Recognising and working with (national, system, international) context and complexity: identify factors critical to development, such as penal culture and social/economic environment, and plan accordingly; be aware of the complex, unpredictable nature of change and consequently its potential duration.
  4. Identifying and addressing potential resistances (political, system, organisational, public…) and risks, including net-widening, over-reliance on training at the expense of wider organisation and system needs.
  5. Building networks and alliances – engaging and involving critical stakeholders and partners in developing probation’s vision and contribution.
  6. Achieving the vision – by devising an accepted integral strategy and implementation plan that balances work in domains and enablers.
  7. Project Management – allowing for preparation time, development of mutual understanding, a step-by-step approach, piloting, review, iterative and flexible development, continuous and coordinated across time and donors.
  8. Professional technical and “soft” skills – involving experienced, knowledgeable, long-term, committed, inspiring, skilled and relational experts/consultants, balancing international and national context – sensitive and adaptable to culture, diversity, and language.
  9. Drawing on and collaborating with supra-national organisations and professional bodies in probation development.
  10. Building in evaluation, research and reporting.

The research also identifies a number of risk factors in growing a probation service (almost all of which will be very familiar to those working in our own probation system). These include net-widening and mass supervision, high caseloads, and the potential dominance of electronic monitoring or other primarily control mechanisms at the cost of rehabilitation.

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One Response

  1. What a good, accessible, step by step approach, that anyone can follow and buy into that works. Sometimes it’s the simple exposure of concepts to effect changes required. Sorry, but researchers CAN over complicate and put people off so they don’t change or do anything recommended. For me this is a route map based on What Works and emphasises key things that MUST be in place. SSTAKEHOLDERS input at all levels. They are referring, processing and producing results. Too often central bureaucracy meddle with research (or ignore it!) to produce what they think are good presentable ideas that are more based on short term costs and populism rather than long time costs and improved services that save cost crime and pain in the long run. Secondly COLLABORATION .Different parts of the chain have different skill sets to do their work effectively. If we try and understand that more, embed it sensibly with others it WILL work better and build better trusting relationships when things need change. Well done Leo and Steve whose research is always built on their own professional values and knowledge.

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