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Re-imagining probation practice
New book: Reimagining Probation Practice: Re-Forming Rehabilitation in an Age of Penal Excess

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Re-forming Rehabilitation in an Age of Penal Excess

This is a guest post by Nicola Carr, one of the editors of a new book: Reimagining Probation Practice: Re-Forming Rehabilitation in an Age of Penal Excess. Nicola is one of the five editors alongside Lol Burke, Emma Cluley, Steve Collett and Fergus McNeill. 

Probation changes

Most readers of this blog will not need reminding of the profound changes that probation services in England and Wales have undergone in recent years, including the implementation of the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms and the process of their reversal, which very much remains an ongoing project. More broadly, over the past twenty years or so we have seen an expanded repertoire of community sanctions, which has included changes to their nature and format. This has led to an increasing array and intensification of the possible conditions that can be attached to community orders and post-custodial release requirements. Some critiques of these trends have identified the negative effects associated with ‘net-widening’, as well as a hollowing out of the idea of rehabilitation.

The book

Our book, Reimagining Probation Practice – Re-Forming Rehabilitation in an Age of Penal Excess published by Routledge,  aims to engage with some of these debates, by exploring how rehabilitation is currently conceptualised and practiced in a range of probation settings and importantly how it can be reimagined. Much of existing research and writing about probation tends to focus on the individual relationship between the probation practitioner and the person under supervision, when in fact probation work takes place in a much wider range of settings. To address this gap this book contains chapters exploring probation practice in a diverse range of settings, including courts, individual and group work interventions, unpaid work, resettlement, public protection work, partnerships, approved premises, education and training and probation inspections.

Each chapter provides a brief history of the particular setting and the current policy context of probation practice within that setting. In earlier work Fergus McNeill (2012), one of the co-editors of the book, set out a multi-dimensional model of rehabilitation, including the following domains: personal, social, moral and judicial/legal rehabilitation. As he observed in this work, there is an overemphasis in probation practice on aspects of ‘personal’ rehabilitation, i.e. a focus on what the individual needs to do to change, with much less attention being paid to the reciprocal responsibilities of the services and the state to promote rehabilitation, by creating the conditions where this can occur (i.e. the other dimensions of this model). Each chapter therefore considers how applying the four forms would impact on probation practice within the different settings.  To address the question of net-widening, we also consider how community sanctions can be used more ‘parsimoniously’ and ‘productively’.

Academics in partnership with practitioners

One of the unique features of the book is that most of the chapters are jointly written by academics and probation practitioners. We took this approach because any consideration of how probation practice can be reimagined has to foreground perspectives from practitioners who are carrying out this work. We conclude the book by exploring questions of wider legitimacy of probation services, particularly at this critical juncture. We reflect on the need for the development of institutional capital and an independent professional voice to challenge the injustices that probation practitioners encounter every day in their work. We hope that the book contributes to these discussions.

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Transforming Rehabilitation under the microscope

The latest edition of the British Journal of Community Justice is a special issue dedicated to Transforming Rehabilitation. It is more than double its normal length and has been made available for free online. You can also order the print edition for just £5 (+£2 p&p).

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