Transforming Rehabilitation: The impact of austerity and privatisation on day-to-day cultures and working practices in ‘probation’

Date01 March 2019
Published date01 March 2019
Subject MatterArticles
The impact of austerity
and privatisation
on day-to-day cultures
and working practices
in ‘probation’
Samantha Walker , Jill Annison, and Sharon Beckett
University of Plymouth, UK
Viewed as a culmination of broader neoliberal governance within the UK, this paper
examines the impact of the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) agenda on
day-to-day working cultures at the frontline of probation work. TR has brought with it
extensive structural and cultural changes to probation work in England and Wales.
Once a single public-sector service with a social welfare ethos of ‘advise, assist and
befriend’, probation has been dismantled, partially privatised and culturally trans-
formed into a collection of fragmented, target-driven organisations, divided according
to risk and with an official rhetoric emphasising public protection. The implications of
TR are now starting to surface. While much of this attention has focused on the impact
of TR on both the supervision of offenders and in terms of public protection, less
research has been conducted on how these organisational changes have impacted
upon staff. Drawing upon findings from qualitative research, this article suggests that
deepening cuts, precarious working environments, and increasingly unmanageable
caseloads inflict upon staff what we consider to be a pervasive form of systemic
workplace harm, resulting in mental health issues, stress, and professional
Corresponding Author:
Samantha Walker, University of Plymouth, Drake Circus, Plymouth, Devon PL4 8AA, UK.
Probation Journal
2019, Vol. 66(1) 113–130
ªThe Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0264550518820670
The Journal of Community and Criminal Justice
workplace harm, neoliberalism, privatisation, Transforming Rehabilitation (TR),
National Probation Service (NPS), Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs)
Despite widespread opposition, the Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) agenda,
which was introduced by the government in 2012, was operationalised at great
speed, severing probation from its public-service and humanitarian foundations
(Deering and Feilzer, 2015).
In the place of existing probation trusts emerged a
‘new’ and much smaller National Probation Service (NPS) and, following a com-
plex bidding process, 21 new Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) took
over responsibility for managing medium- and low-risk offenders. In 2014, follow-
ing a review of all staff caseloads conducted on a randomly chosen date in 2013,
all probation staff were reallocated either to the NPS or to CRC (Robinson et al.,
2016), and what followed was a swift array of changes typical of broader patterns
in the field of work and employment within the context of neoliberalism. Well-
documented downsizing through redundancies, staff cuts and role changes
injected a sense of job insecurity amongst many probation workers – particularly
those working within CRCs. Such feelings have been deepened by the CRCs’ over-
estimation of revenues and a shift toward more automated services, such as the
introduction of offender management ‘kiosks’ and over-the-phone supervision
(National Audit Office, 2017). The result has been at times unmanageable case-
loads, giving rise to extreme stress and anxiety among probation staff and a general
experience of deskilling and deprofessionalisation which has thrown many pro-
bation workers’ professional identities into a state of existential crisis.
Although the probation service has undergone numerous structural and cultural
changes since its creation (Mawby and Worrall, 2013), the extent of these changes
in the last few years cannot be over-stated. Described as ‘the most radical change it
[probation] has ever seen’ (Newburn, 2013), TR has intensified the existing sig-
nificant challenges that decades of neoliberal policies have posed to the ‘probation
ideal’ (Deering and Feilzer, 2015) and its established working practices (Robinson
et al., 2016: 165). Therefore, while this article builds upon existing critiques of
contemporary probation, it focuses more specifically on a consideration of the
harmful impact that these structural changes have upon workers. Indeed, it is our
belief that TR and the changes this has brought about offer a unique opportunity to
conceptually expand and advance research in the broad field of workplace
Numerous studies have emerged detailing the systematic failings of TR, failings
which have been confirmed in the government’s early termination of the CRC
contracts (MoJ, 2018). However, government ministers have failed to concede that
TR’s failings are a result of its neoliberal underpinnings and the problems inherent
within the privatisation of public services. On the contrary, in discussing the termi-
nation of TR, Justice Secretary David Gauke defended the continued role of the
114 Probation Journal 66(1)

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