The reflective practitioner in transition. Probation work during reintegration of probation services in England and Wales

AuthorAnne Burrell
Published date01 December 2022
Date01 December 2022
Subject MatterArticles
The ref‌lective
practitioner in
transition. Probation
work during
reintegration of
probation services in
England and Wales
Anne Burrell
De Montfort University, UK
This article evaluates the recent history of probation services in England and Wales.
The author currently working as a Practice Teacher Assessor in the Probation Service
considers the politicisation of probation, identif‌ied as one outcome of a rhetorical
narrative to act toughon crime and the impact of the New Public Management
model of organisational accountability, its focus on performance and targets, and,
arguably, the diminution of the professional role. Following semi-privatisation, and
currently reintegration, of probation services, the article puts forward an argument
for a realignment of practice, to focus on the supervisory relationship, professional
autonomy, and the ref‌lective practitioner.
probation service, Transforming Rehabilitation, professional relationship, ref‌lective
practitioner, professional identity
The decade from 2013 to 2023 is likely to prove to be one of the most tumultuous
periods in the history of the probation service in England and Wales a dubious
Corresponding Author:
Anne Burrell, De Montfort University, Health and Life Sciences, The Gateway, Leicester, United Kingdom,
LE1 9BH.
Article The Journal of Communit
and Criminal Justice
Probation Journal
2022, Vol. 69(4) 434451
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/02645505221117537
status for an organisation which celebrated its centenary in 2007.
2013 was the
point at which the then Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government pro-
mulgated the possibility of privatisation of the probation service.
Various argu-
ments were put forward to justify this position that it would enable change and
innovation in practice; that it would f‌inally put an end to the revolving door of short-
term prison sentences, and speedy re-incarceration, as a consequence of reoffend-
ing; and that it would provide better value for money (Ministry of Justice, 2013).
In the event, probation was only semi-privatised, via a policy strategy entitled
Transforming Rehabilitation (TR.) (MoJ, 2013: 3,4). It would be satisfying to think
that the concerted campaign against privatisation, led by a plethora of bodies
and individuals, including the Magistrates Association and the National
Association of Probation Off‌icers, had a benign impact on this outcome
(Magistrates Association, 2017; NAPO, 2013). In practice, it seems equally pos-
sible that the statutory obstacles to wholesale privatisation of a key arm of the crim-
inal justice system proved a step too far particularly as the then Minister for Justice,
Chris Grayling, was clearly keen to implement the measures speedily, abandoning
the sole, limited, and possibly not relevant pilot of payment by results a key plank of
the privatisation model at an early stage (Raynor, 2018: 50). Annison (2019)
argues that, from the outset, Transforming Rehabilitation embodied the notion of
policy disasterin its characteristics, and in its outcomes. He utilises the concept
of policy disasterto analyse the specif‌ic dynamics of British political processes
which shape much social policy; and which rapidly move from a gradual process
of change, to more radical measures, and which he argues contributed to the unba-
lancedoutcome of the privatisation reforms (Annison, 2019: 5455).
The aftermath of Transforming Rehabilitation led to a signif‌icant deterioration in
the delivery of probation services. An early Her Majestys Inspectorate of Probation
(HMIP) report was highly critical of a range of issues the lamentable delivery of the
Through the Gate arrangements to address the needs of short-sentenced prisoners;
excessive workloads in both the private Community Rehabilitation Companies
(CRCs) and the National Probation Service (NPS), which had a corrosive impact
on both service users and staff; the escalation in Serious Further Offences (SFOs);
and the diminution of supervision, and the professional relationship, as a conse-
quence at its most egregious, in the call centreoperations offered by one CRC
(HMIP, 2016).
In June 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the then Minister for
Justice, Robert Buckland, announced the reintegration of probation services.
justif‌ication for this decision which was surprising in its timing, if nothing else
was cited as the escalating costs of continuing with the semi-privatised arrange-
ments. Under repeated pressure from his shadow counterpart, David Lammy, Mr
Buckland refused to acknowledge that this decision represented a major U-turn in
policy, pointing to the fact that some aspects of service delivery specialist work
with women, and around issues to do with accommodation, and employment and
training would remain outsourced to the third sector and other bidders.
In practice, whilst the f‌inancial imperative would undoubtedly appear to have
been a major consideration, it also seems possible that the weight of disapprobation
Burrell 435

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