French and scottish probation during the first lockdown. In search of the heart and soul of probation

AuthorJohn Sturgeon,Martine Herzog-Evans
Published date01 June 2022
Date01 June 2022
Subject MatterArticles
French and scottish
probation during the
rst lockdown. In
search of the heart and
soul of probation
Martine Herzog-Evans
Université de Reims, France
John Sturgeon
University of West Scotland, UK
In March 2020 in response to the global pandemic, countries across Europe ordered
businesses and ofces to close and their citizens to stay at home. This paper is part of
a wider investigation, which explores what happened to probation services in France
and in Scotland during this time of national emergency. Qualitative interviews with
29 French and 27 Scottish probation staff took place during the initial lockdown,
the authors wishing to capture the personal and organisational experience of practis-
ing probation at this unprecedented time. In this paper, the authors explore how pro-
bation staff in both countries responded to the news of the lockdown and how they
adapted to working in these fundamentally altered circumstances. The paper explores
what took place and therefore what is left of probation when the vast majority of what
it usually entails becomes no longer possible. The study reveals similarities between
the countries in how as human beings, probation staff responded to the pandemic
and the imposition of the lockdown; it also uncovers differences in the practice that
emerged, these differences reecting the different historical roots of the two services
and differences in the way that they are structured.
Corresponding Author:
Martine Herzog-Evans, Université de Reims, Champagne-Ardenne-Droit, 57 bis rue Pierre Tattinger, Reims
51100, France.
Article The Journal of Communit
and Criminal Justice
Probation Journal
2022, Vol. 69(2) 197215
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/02645505221087976
probation, lockdown, COVID-19, criminal justice social worker, advise, assist,
befriend, social work
France was placed on connementon March 16, 2020, by president Macron.
From the onset, the lockdown was highly authoritarian, and energetically enforced
by a very strong police presence in the street. French residents were not allowed to
leave their home without a laissez-passer. With very few exceptions, public ser-
vices, hospitalities, and shops (except those selling food) were closed. Probation ser-
vices likewise closed overnight, and prisons were closed to external visits
(Herzog-Evans, forthcoming). Masks being unavailable for many months, French
probation staff who worked in prison were instructed only to communicate with pris-
oners in writing. Probation staff who worked in the community were ordered to work
remotely, to send letters to all their probationers, starting with the high-risk ones, and
to then use their phone to communicate with service users.
In Scotland, the rst Covid case was conrmed on March 1
2020 and the rst
recorded death was conrmed on March 13
. On March 20
, the Scottish
Government ordered all businesses providing hospitality to close. It was not until
March 23
, that the United Kingdom Government, with a delay that caused a
large number of deaths, declared a national lockdown. The rule was to stay at
home, except for certain very limited purposes. Criminal Justice and public health
being reserved matters, the Scottish Government has autonomy to make its own
decisions. Thus, Scotland was able to make its Criminal Justice System (CJS)
benet from its exibility and local embeddedness, which proved vital during this
world crisis. The enforcement of the lockdown in Scotland was based on a policing
approach of Engaging, Explaining, Encouraging and only if this fails, Enforcing. All
court business in Scotland was adjourned or continued administratively on 25
March following which priority cases and custody decisions were dealt with in 10
Courts. Regarding probation, the 32 probation local authority Criminal Justice
Social Work services (Sturgeon & Leygue-Eurieult, 2020) were placed on lockdown
overnight and Criminal Justice Social Workers (CJSWs) told to work remotely. The
local authority ofces where some of the CJSWs operated from were kept in use
as a base for services to vulnerable people. In some instances, staff were reallocated
to other local authority duties (e.g. delivering food). As in France, Scottish prisons
went through a series of restrictions and, in particular, regarding visits. CJSWs
who normally worked in prison settings, were not allowed to enter their place of
If both jurisdictions were placed on lockdown, roughly at the same time, it was
only partially lifted in Scotland (July the 3
), and with great caution everywhere
in the UK, whereas as of May 11, 2020, barring curfew hours and local lockdowns,
France went on to largely ignore the pandemic to restore the economy.
In both France and Scotland then, virtually overnight, probation ofces closed
and probation ofcers (POs) were required to provide a service from home at a
198 Probation Journal 69(2)

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