Desistance from crime and probation supervision: Comparing experiences of English and French probationers

Published date01 June 2021
AuthorRuwani Fernando
Date01 June 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Desistance from crime
and probation
supervision: Comparing
experiences of English
and French probationers
Ruwani Fernando
University of Sheffield, UK
This research compares how English and French desisters experience and perceive
probation supervision. In this qualitative study, desisters of both countries were
interviewed to collect narratives of change within the context of punishment in the
community. The aim of this research was to explore and compare the role of probation
in desistance processes, in different national, socio-economic, and criminal justice
settings. The findings demonstrate similarities in perceptions of probation officers as
people with resources. Differences emerged in the types of resources engaged with
and the perceived punitiveness of mandatory supervision.
desistance, offender management, probation, rehabilitation, supervision
The role of criminal justice interventions in desistance processes has been exten-
sively researched. There are now valuable findings on the influence of probation
upon behavioural change (Farrall et al., 2014; King, 2013; Leibrich, 1993;
McCulloch, 2005; Rex, 1999; Villeneuve et al., 2020). Probation supervision has
the potential for creating conditions that make behavioural change more likely
Corresponding Author:
Ruwani Fernando, School of Law, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S37ND, UK.
The Journal of Community and Criminal Justice
Probation Journal
2021, Vol. 68(2) 224–242
ªThe Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/02645505211012062
(Healy, 2012; King, 2013). The work completed during probation can have long
lasting impact (Farrall et al., 2014), and the quality of the supervisory relationship
has been cited as crucial in promoting change (Leibrich, 1993; Shapland et al.,
2012). Researchers have recommended desistance-focussed probation practice, to
encourage behavioural change (McNeill, 2006). What is more, desistance
research has highlighted the role of social structures, institutions, and other societal
characteristics in behavioural change (Farrall et al., 2011). Herein lies the value in
comparative work on desistance within criminal justice systems, across different
However, little is known on the role of probation in desistance processes in a
comparative perspective. Moreover, empirical work on desistance in the French
context is scarce (see Benazeth, 2020; Gaı
¨a, 2020). This article offers to address
these gaps in the literature, by providing a cross-national comparison of English and
French desisters’ experiences and perspectives of probation supervision. Since
much is already known on the design and evolution of probation in England and
Wales (Robinson, 2016b; Tidmarsh, 2020) and its impact on desistance processes
(Farrall et al., 2014; King, 2013; Segev, 2020; Shapland et al., 2012), it is
assumed that the readership is familiar with the English context of this research. For
this reason, the relevant background information will be given only about the French
context before a discussion on assisting desistance and the value of cross-national
comparative work. First, findings on relationships with probation officers and the
type of support people engage with when supervised will be analysed. Secondly,
there will be an exploration of desisters’ experiences and perspectives of probation
as a punishment in the community.
Community sentences in France
In France, evolutions in non-custodial measures resulted from efforts to decrease the
prison population as well as to legitimise and give value to punishments in the
community (de Larminat, 2014). Probation supervision is often accompanied by
‘obligations’ which are measures to be carried out in the community, in the context
of a sentence or amendment to an existing sentence. These are much like require-
ments of English community sentences, and include compulsory actions towards
looking for employment, addressing health/addiction problems, completing
accredited programmes, respecting curfews and restriction measures (Mair et al.,
2007: 11).
The aims of the French probation services in non-custodial settings, as stated by
the Penal Procedure Code
are as follows:
Assist judges in pre-sentence reports and in anticipation of sentence
Carry out follow-ups, and ensure measures are understood and respected.
Assist with ‘reinsertion’ or rehabilitation into society, facilitating access to
relevant services.
Fernando 225

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