The importance of perceptions of procedural justice (PJ) has been well documented in court, policing and prison settings as influencing a multitude of relevant outcomes, including cooperation and compliance with the law, rules and instructions, psychological wellbeing, and recidivism. PJ research in probation settings is, however, still in its infancy.
A new (30 March 2023) HMPPS report documents work to develop and test a measure of, and then examine differences in, PJ perceptions, focusing on different patterns of responses for different groups, and the relationship between people’s perceptions and their probation experiences.
The study, conducted by Flora Fitzalan Howard, George Box and Dr Helen Wakeling (who are Evidence Leads, Psychologists and Researchers in HMPPS’ Evidence-Based Practice Team), utilised the responses to the ‘Your Views Matter’ (YVM) community satisfaction survey administered in 2018. The dataset comprised responses from 18,291 individuals from across England and Wales who had been subject to community supervision during 2018 across 28 National Probation Service (NPS) divisions or Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRC). The researchers analysed these responses to develop their 9-point PJ scale. These 9 points were:
- Probation staff treat me in a respectful way
- Probation staff are usually on time for our meetings
- Probation staff give me the chance to give my views
- Probation staff listen to me
- I trust the probation staff I see
- I understand what probation staff expected me
- Probation staff explain their decisions to me
- Probation staff are fair were making decisions about my licence or supervision
- Probation staff care about the person I really am
Somewhat surprisingly given the findings from inspections over the last five years (including the views of people on probation for the last two), overall perceptions were positive – a mean score of 4.36 out of 5.
The characteristics of people on probation who were more likely to hold positive opinions were:
- Of white ethnicity
- Without physical and/or mental health issues and/or learning difficulties
- On licence (as opposed to being on a community sentence).
The converse is, of course, also true – that is younger, racially minoritised people, those with health or learning difficulties and people on community sentences were less likely to have positive views. There was no significant difference between the perceptions of men and women.
The components associated with better perceptions of procedural justice included:
- Feelings of greater involvement in the sentence planning processes,
- Receiving support while on probation,
- A focus on what matters and
- Greater focus on the future
One of the most heartening findings was that people at the start of their probation period had poorer perceptions than those who were further along, suggesting that probation was actually a more helpful process than they had anticipated.
This is very much an initial exploratory study and the researchers recommend further research to gain a more detailed understanding of the mechanisms behind these findings.
Nevertheless, they feel able to conclude that a focus on open, honest, and trusting relationships in community supervision is likely to be worthwhile.