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Probation needs transformative change
Emma Hands and Dr Sarah Lewis on growth and the core conditions of transformative change in new HMI Probation Academic Insight.

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The latest (24 February 2023) publication in the probation inspectorate’s Academic Insight series is entitled “Growth and the core conditions of transformative change”. Written by Emma Hands and Dr Sarah Lewis (Director of Penal Reform Solutions), it introduces the ideas and practices of Growth work.  The publication promotes a whole system approach which seeks to grow an organisation through building a sense of community and belonging.

The paper highlights new thinking around penal reform, attributing importance to community reform as a mechanism to drive change and reduce social harm collectively. It uses case studies to show how the penal system can promote rehabilitation, deliver new opportunities for development, and focus on the core principles of Growth. The nine Growth principles (see the infographic reproduced below) are the foundation of the approach, maximising the power of interventions through nurturing positive relationships at all levels.

The principles of growth

Growth philosophy and culture

The authors describe the growth philosophy that draws on knowledge from positive psychology and humanistic thinking, with its roots in Norwegian penal practice. The Growth philosophy focuses on a whole system approach, which identifies the specific needs of an organisation, building sustainable practices and driving a positive organisational culture.

It is an inclusive approach to organisational change, which develops bespoke interventions (such as training, events and supervision) that are designed to inspire and build practitioners’ confidence in their work.

The interesting dimension about growth is that it is not solely about rehabilitation but also focuses on growing an organisation and the culture within it. It focuses on:

  • celebrating success (no matter how small)
  • learning from mistakes with a growth mindset
  • working together to create sustainable solutions and make a collective impact.

Many readers might think this is just the sort of approach that are prison and probation systems are currently in desperate need of.

The authors talk us through the six core conditions of transformative change:

  1. Understand the context
  2. Relationships and identity are key
  3. Strengths based and beyond – a post-traumatic Growth perspective
  4. Broadening out the whole system through inclusivity
  5. Preventative Growth work
  6. Sustainability


The authors, who have built the growth model and, as Penal Reform Solutions, apply it to a range of change projects within the justice sector argue that to enable a long-term transformative culture, a collective perspective in which people matter needs to be adopted by all of those within the system.

There is a strong emphasis on a whole systems approach and on working together to build trust and understanding that can collectively support sustainable solutions to overcome existing challenges. The authors are clear that these conditions are required for interventions and preventions to take root and grow.

Through first understanding the context of a setting, a clear starting position is provided from which practice can be improved, meeting the needs of the organisation and those within it. A high value is placed on  cultural work to find the root of any issues, rather than putting plasters on the problems and hoping things will improve.

Just as desistance best practice emphasises the importance of a strengths or asset based approach, PRS argue that  reflecting on and building on current good practice and beliefs  generates a sense of pride, which contributes to happier staff, positive relationships and a commitment to join in the change process.

The case studies in the paper include work with mental wellbeing programmes, early intervention work and work within probation hostels.

PRS are also working collaboratively with other organisations to establish the Growth Alliance, a collection of committed individuals from all paths of life, who share the same vision of a rehabilitative-focused criminal justice system; who want to become part of the mission, to change culture, implement prevention tools, reduce harm and contribute to community safety.


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