Criminology, probation and stuff

Some musings on criminology with a focus on probation

Pre-sentence reports and home visits- then and now

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This article, Sex texts teacher ‘too ashamed to leave home’ – Shields Gazette, is about a woman who was unable to leave her home due to harassment from members of the public because of the offences she had committed. This kind of vigilantism is thoroughly depressing and the fact that it has affected the normal procedures of someone being sentenced based on a pre-sentence report is even more so.

However, what I find interesting and relevant to my own work is this quote:

The court heard the probation service have taken the unusual step of agreeing to interview Walls at home so reports can be prepared for the next hearing on February 9.

Interviewing at home for a PSR used to be absolutely standard practice. Home visits were considered to be the best way to judge what an offender’s home situation was so that the probation officer could then make sure that the most suitable disposal was imposed by the court. The Morison Committee (Great Britain, 1962) heard evidence suggesting that

the probation officer’s most useful work was done by visiting the probationer in his home rather than by interviewing him at a probation office.

I, and many others, agree that home visits should not be the only form of contact with offenders but I do wonder how, and why, we have gone from a situation where home visit were the norm to one where they are unusual. Funding would be an obvious answer- it costs more to interview someone at home because people might not be in, it might not be the calmest of situations (if there are children who need attention etc), and there are health and safety issues which might lead to a double visit. But I fear it may be something else. By asking someone to come to the probation office, the probation officer is (maybe unconsciously) exercising power over that person and bringing them into a situation over which the offender has no control. It is the classic Marxist analysis in which we see the probation officer as an agent of social control and using it in order to exercise as much control as possible over the citizen.

John St John wrote a book in 1961 about probation work. On page 21 there is an indepth description of how an officer prepared a social enquiry report (as PSRs used to be known). The process involved: a meeting with the mother of the defendant in court, a meeting with the defendant in court, a letter to the biological father, a visit to the defendant’s parents at home, a visit to defendant in prison while on remand, and a visit from Lancashire probation to the absent biological father. St John said this could provide a prototype for all cases.

When one considers that a Fast Delivery Report is a pre-sentence report which a probation officer should be able to write in 1.5 hours (the deadline for requesting one is 3.30pm- most courts adjourn for the day at 5pm) we can really start to appreciate how things have changed. Admittedly it is for medium seriousness offenders but the example above from St John regards a defendant who had been convicted of theft- even in the days before crime had become a ‘normal social fact’ (obligatory Garland quote: 1996), theft was not considered a high seriousness crime.

Here, we can see how policy and macro-social changes have affected the work of the probation service. My research will aim to unpick what this exactly means in terms of how probation officers think about probation and what it means with regards to providing a rehabilitative service to offenders.

Refs:

Garland, David. 1996. “The Limits of the Sovereign State Strategies of Crime Control in Contemporary Society.” British Journal of Criminology 36:445-471.

St John, J. 1961. Probation, the Second Chance. Vista Books.

Great Britain. 1962. Report of the Departmental Committee on the Probation Service. London: H. M. Stationery Off.

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Written by criminologyandstuff

January 15, 2009 at 2:53 pm

Posted in Probation Service

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