Criminology, probation and stuff

Some musings on criminology with a focus on probation

Two probation stories

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There are two stories relating to probation in the media today. The first relates to Probation in Scotland where it is reported that “more than a third of all probation orders result in breach’. This has resulted in Kenny MacAskill saying that he will make community punishments tougher ‘in an effort to reduce the number of offenders sent to prison and cut reoffending’. Quite how this will reduce the number of breaches is beyond me. That, however, is not the point. What this story actually exposes is a contradiction in the way we think about probation. Probation Officers (or social workers in Scotland as the case may be) are under pressure to stick to guidelines about when to breach an offender- it is quite feasible that an increase in the number of breaches results from workers simply adhering to the guidelines. However, when (or if) this happens, it is seen as failure in terms of the effectiveness of community orders. Practitioners seem to be in a no win situation.

The second story is that the first offenders doing Unpaid Work are now having to wear bright orange vests (see here). Phil Brooker, spokesman for the service, says it will be show that probation is not a soft option and that the community can now see that Unpaid Work does require hard work in the community. Nothing wrong with that, per se. However, I am interested to to see what the offenders and the public at large what they think. The government has vehemently denied that the vests have anything to do with shaming offenders- surely, we do not know whether this is the case or not before we ask anyone. Although I am against the idea of these vests in principle (because I personally believe that they do suggest something of the Wheelbarrow Men (Pratt, 2000) and all the implications this has for humane justice) but I also think that we need to be careful before jumping to conclusions about the impact of such measures for fear of inducing some form of self-fulfilling prophecy. If the vests do not induce shame in offenders, then, I would argue, the last thing we want to do is encourage it by proposing it without a solid empirical basis.

Pratt, J. (2000). The Return of the Wheelbarrow Men; or, the Arrival of Postmodern Penality? British Journal of Criminology, 40(1), 127-145.


Written by criminologyandstuff

December 10, 2008 at 1:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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