Probation and the ethics of care

AuthorJane Dominey,Rob Canton
Published date01 December 2022
Date01 December 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Probation and the
ethics of care
Jane Dominey
Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge, UK
Rob Canton
De Montfort University, UK
Discussions of probations values can be enriched by an appreciation of care ethics. This
approach is explained with attention to its emphasis on relationships and individualisa-
tion. The implications for probations work are explored, including its signif‌icance for the
supervisory relationship, its challenges for the management of the organisation and the
value of individualised approaches. Care ethics argues for practice shaped not by rules
and processes, but by people and their circumstances in all their diversity. Care ethics
offers a principled and effective approach to probations work.
probation values, care ethics, relationships, individualisation, practice
The values and ethics that underpin probation practice have long been the subject of
debate and discussion. The language of values and ethics is used to justify or to
oppose shifts in policy and governance. Attempts are made to codify values and
to write statements of ethical conduct. Training programmes, practice guidelines
and managerial processes seek, in different ways, to ensure that the quality of pro-
bation work and the culture of probation organisations are ethically grounded.
In these debates, probation has tended to draw (even if not explicitly or con-
sciously) on ideas about the importance of ethical rules and principles as well as
Corresponding Author:
Jane Dominey, Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge, Sidgwick Avenue, Cambridge, CB3 9DA,
United Kingdom.
Article The Journal of Communit
and Criminal Justice
Probation Journal
2022, Vol. 69(4) 417433
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/02645505221105401
ref‌lections on the outcomes and impacts of moral choices. The aim of this article is to
broaden this debate by introducing the paradigm of virtue ethics (Hursthouse,
1999) and its close relative care ethics (Gilligan, 1982 / 2016; Tronto, 1993)
and arguing that these offer a new and fresh way of considering how probation
should be practised.
These ethical frameworks shift our focus away from ethical rules and attempts to
calculate uncertain outcomes to questions about the cultures of organisations and the
qualities of practitioners. Care ethics is particularly instructive for its emphasis on
relationships, which seem at the heart of so much that probation attempts to do.
Ideas about care and caring may, at f‌irst sight, appear to f‌it poorly in the world
of criminal justice and punishment. This article takes a different view: arguing that
ethical probation work requires thoughtful consideration about what it means to
put care at the heart of practice.
The values of probation
Probation workers have been aware of the moral signif‌icance of their work from the
earliest days. In recent years, these aspects have often been explored in terms of pro-
bation values, considering the moral worth, the politics and the practical feasibility
of f‌inding ways of giving expression to probations ethical commitments (Canton
and Dominey, 2017:Chapter 3; Cowburn et al., 2013; Gelsthorpe, 2007;
Nellis and Gelsthorpe, 2004; Williams, 1994). Sometimes, in the contested polit-
ical arena, it can seem as if these concerns have been pushed aside in the relentless
pursuit of the enquiry to f‌ind out what works. Yet, as David Garland has insisted ‘…
the pursuit of values such as justice, tolerance, decency, humanity and civility should
be part of any penal institutions self-consciousness - an intrinsic and constitutive
aspect of its role - rather than a diversion from its realgoals or an inhibition on
its capacity to be effective.(1990: 292) For that matter, it has been argued
that trying to establish probation practice on the foundation of whats right rather
than what works may turn out not only to defend and enhance these values, but
even to make it more likely that probation practice will achieve some of the objec-
tives that it sets for itself (Canton, 2013).
For much of the twentieth century, probation aligned itself with the values of social
work. In the early 1990s, however, the government decided that association with
social work, a recognised caring profession, did nothing to advance public conf‌i-
dence in the work of an agency intended to deliver punishment in the community
(Knight, 2002; Ward and Spencer, 1994). This repudiation of social work and
its values was much more about connotation and political tone than substance.
Indeed the shotgun separation, welcomed by neither profession, took place at a
time when they were discovering how much they had in common - perhaps espe-
cially the renewed emphasis on the importance of safeguarding vulnerable
people through the assessment and management of risk in their respective practices.
While some lamented the loss of connections with the traditions and practices of
social work, others drew attention to the opportunities that this brought to aff‌irm
other values, and not excluding at least some of the values of social work, even if
418 Probation Journal 69(4)

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