The visual imagery of probation
This is a guest post by Nicola Carr and Gwen Robinson.
How CRCs represent & market their work
In our article we look at the websites of the 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies to explore how CRCs represent and market their work. Our interest was prompted by work in other areas of criminal justice, which suggests that privatized sectors, including the private security industry borrow familiar symbols in order convey a continuity with similar public services, such as policing.
The material in the article is based on our analysis of the web sites of all CRCs in January 2019. We downloaded the content of all of the websites and we looked at the different audiences to whom the websites seemed to be addressed as well as the messages that were conveyed and the visual imagery used to represent probation work. Overall we found that the websites of the CRCs were quite diverse. Some contained large amounts of information about their activities and the requirements to be met by someone placed under supervision. Other websites were much sparser and provided little information apart from basic contact details and generic supervision requirements. One, if not the only, common feature of all of the websites, was the use of the familiar probation logo featuring white squares on a purple background, with the word probation at the bottom. All of the websites featured this logo on the front page of their website and we found that the use of this logo followed an instruction from the National Offender Management Service (NOMs) in 2014 to ‘provide brand recognition and aid public recognition of probation services’.
Some of the websites connected the establishment of the particular CRC with a longer history of probation In England and Wales. For example, the website of the Staffordshire and West Midlands’ CRC linked its work with police court missionaries active in the 19th century. Some histories were much shorter, for instance the website of the Thames Valley CRC simply noted the establishment of the CRC in June 2014 following the implementation of Transforming Rehabilitation reforms.
The question of who is the beneficiary of probation services has been subject to some debate over the years. The websites of the CRCs seemed to be directed to a range of different audiences including sentencers, people under supervision and the broader public. For example, some websites contained forms inviting the public to nominate projects for Community Payback. However, only a very small number of websites mentioned victims as a specific audience. Most of the websites contained information about the services provided by the CRC and a small number included a ‘rate card’ which detailed the cost of those services. For example the Essex CRC’s ‘rate card’ noted that ‘Offender Management’ services would be charged at £70 per hour, and that specific work with service users to promote compliance could be delivered in a package costing £250 for 2 x 1.5 hour sessions. However, this level of detail on service costs was unusual and overall, we were struck by the fact that the commercial aspects of the CRCs tended to be muted. We can only assume that this relates to the fact that the main income of CRCs was derived from government contracts and therefore they were not necessarily required to sell their products in this way.
Given the more readily recognizable visual iconography associated with prisons, we were also interested in the images the CRCs used to represent probation work. Another striking aspect of the websites was the range of imagery used to convey probation work. The most common image used across virtually all of the websites were pictures of people working in high visibility jackets undertaking Community Payback. Some of the websites also contained images of work completed as part of Community Payback projects, (e.g. a revamped playground). Another common image was a picture of two people talking in a conventional office setting. While these pictures weren’t explained we understood them to represent the process of supervision. As well as attempting to ‘picture probation’ a few of the CRC homepages also provided details on the quantitative aspects of their operations, noting for instance the number of people being supervised in community, and the numbers of unpaid hours worked.
Overall we found that there were aspects of continuity in the representation of the probation ‘brand’ following TR reforms. The use of visual imagery to convey probation work was somewhat limited, and we considered this as part of the difficulties involved in making the work or ‘product’ of probation tangible. Overall the business aspects of the CRCs was less clear from their websites, and we considered this an interesting contrast to how the work of CRCs has generally been conveyed. Clearly the next phases of reform will bring new changes to the probation landscape, not least through further tendering of ‘rehabilitative activities’ and probation work.
The full article can be read here:
Carr, N. & Robinson, G. (2020) ‘A legitimate business? Representations of privatised probation in England and Wales.’ Crime Media Culture: https://doi.org/10.1177/1741659020903771
Note: NAPO members can access Crime Media Culture on-line as part of their package access to Sage Publications including the Probation Journal.