When the prison population doubles, then doubles again, and then doubles again as it has done in E&W from 15,900 in 1901 to nearly 90,000 in 2010, it follows that there will be substantial increase in the number of supervised by National Probation Service (NPS). The probation service is responsible for the “commissioning and delivery” of offenders who are subject to a court order or those released on licence from prison. The probation service focuses on the following aims and objectives: proper punishment, protecting public, reduce re-offending, assisting courts in sentencing, victim empathy, rehabilitation and finally best use of resources. As shown, its aims are less about the welfare of offenders and more about social control, which will be covered in more depth in this chapter.
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During the late 1990’s, the probation service was targeted by the media for its poor ability to administer probation orders due to the lack of effective punishment for offenders (Ward et al 2002). Association Of Chief Officers Of Probation (ACOP) released the results of their study which revealed what was feared. It clearly demonstrated that improving enforcement was fundamental for proper punishment and public protection. Thereby, in order to re-gain public confidence and that of the courts, the service took an active approach to ensure that those who breach an order will be returned to court or custody for further sentencing. However, data collected by the National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO) indicated that;
â€¦many of the recalls were for technical reasons such as not following rules, or missing appointments. In the majority of the cases of those recalled for technical reasons, there was no evidence of risk to the public. Cases published by the Napo include individuals who were recalled for not getting up in the morning, for reporting to the wrong probation office, for loosing their permanent address, because of tags not workingâ€¦ (cited in Sim 2009 page 112)
Thereby, although probation officers attempts to protect public with rigorous enforcement orders, for Hearnden and Millie (2004) these changes made little advancement because organisational effectiveness of law enforcement agencies has been seen in terms of control and punishment, rather than rehabilitation of offenders. Recent research findings support Hearnden and Millie’s claim as re-conviction rates within the first two years of being released from prison is more than 60% (Telegraph 2008).
As a consequence of an organisational shift towards law-enforcement, it has been told that control-oriented models of NOMS had an inhibitory effect on the performance of rehabilitation and treatment needs of offenders. Although control-oriented and rehabilitative forms of treatment have been used together, one of the other has been obviously pre-eminent; punishment. This, as a result, brought a punitive criminal justice system which also increased fears about the disappearance of the caring and socially aware aspects of probation work. For Farral (2002) such changes have been a “dismal failure” because professional literature recommends assisting individuals in the process of self-change and building on strengths. In support, Farral’s (2002) project which included interviewing almost two hundred probationers revealed the very small role that supervising probation staff had played in any successful ‘desisting’ from crime. It has, for long, been recommended by Bottoms and McWilliams (1979) and many others that the elements of rehabilitation and punishment should be separated from each other.
More controlling the probation service may be, but Ames (2002) told that probation staffs are often reluctant to punish offenders because they “have understandably felt that this is not their proper business, and indeed is not within their power” (Duff 2003). It has come to be assumed by many probation officers that offenders have problems, often involving their adjustment to society and to life in general. And because the problems of many more offenders lie in their situation, past and present, rather than in themselves, officers are more willing to refer offenders to agencies in which they can obtain special help with housing, employment, drug or alcohol problems and mental health needs which are all considered to be aspects of re-offending (Thames Valley Criminal Justice Board 2007). This reinforces the arguments put forward by Bottoms and McWilliams over twenty years ago when they wrote that ‘â€¦ help may be more crime-reducing than treatment’ (1979: 174). It is clear from this statement that offenders require understanding, and as a result of their understanding they will receive insights which will substantially alter their attitudes after a criminal activity.
The notion of reintegration is well known in Maruna’s Liverpool desistance study where he found that participants often talked about the role of probation officers in recognising redemption (Maruna 2000). But not only do the probation officers play big role in re-integration; models of reintegration stress the need for changes in both role and status for the released prisoner:
The exchange theory concept of reciprocity suggests that only by taking responsibility for making things right with victims and victimised communities can offenders change either the community’s image of them or their perceptions of themselves. (Bazenmore and Stinchcomb 2004: page)
So the emerging question is how can offenders change either the community’s image of them or their perceptions of themselves. For Williams (1995: 124), the latter can be achieved by developing a professional relationship with the client. However, there is a barrier. In contrast to Ames (2002), more recent findings revealed that the attitude of the probation officer to the probationer is no longer as it would be adopted by a sensible friend. Though there are still elements in place in to supply advice, assist and befriend but in reality it is lacking. ‘Strategies For Effective Offender Supervision’ highlighted the necessity for a higher detailed quality approach to deal with offenders by addressing more of their specific behaviour (HMIP 1998b).
Offenders can change community’s image of them by undertaking community work in the community- which is a form of punishment. Nonetheless, no matter how strict the supervision of offenders, and no matter the extent of technology used, it will not be considered to be as effective as the simple act of imprisonment because offenders are not under a total control which prison affords, and is therefore not physically prevented for a period from committing further crimes. However, there are many reasons which provoke government from abolishing the objective of ‘proper punishment’; from an effective punishment in the community the offenders are ”more likely to able to pay compensation to their victims” (Home Office, 1998: 7) by having the chance to re-appraise their lives and their relationships to other people. Moreover, as well as being economic for the taxpayer, it also boosts the probationer’s chance of finding employment as many offenders have poor work records; especially among school leavers.
In theory, community sentences help to ease the pressure on the prison system. As well as being cheaper than prisons, community sentences have shown to have lower recidivism rate; in 2007, 37% of people on a community order re-offended within one year of the order coming to an end as it offers a difficult but genuine opportunity for self-determination and an incentive to use it in legitimate directions. Community orders lasts between 60 and 240 hours of useful labour in the community. Approximately 70% of supervised offenders will be on community sentences each year. With community sentences, probation service aims to provide punishment (the hard work); reparation (working for the community); deterrence (giving up free time to work for nothing); incapacitation (restriction of liberty); and rehabilitation (achieving something worthwhile, and perhaps even learning a new skill). Among the community sentences performed by offenders has been work in youth clubs, hospitals and elderly homes, construction, painting and decorating, cleaning and many more.
As psychologist ________ assert “The desire to be wanted is basic to human nature” (reference). In regards to community sentences, many who feel rejected by their families or society can under the right circumstances find fulfilment in discovering that they are needed by others. For example, Inner London Probation Service provides ‘Bulldog Employment Project’ for offenders who are fully capable of work. The participants are paid more than they would receive from unemployment benefits, but less than they could obtain outside the programme. In due course they can leave work not only with the habit but also with an employer’s reference. This example provides the base of support which enables the offender to rise above their situation so they do not return to a life of crime by increasing their empathy with victims and growing their sense of community responsibility. (Ward 2008). This is consistent with Bazelmore and Stitchcomb’s model of reintegration. However, in some places the community work has not been so inventive; it has been claimed that a few public service institutions in North London have been painted four times because the local probation service has run out of ideas (reference)
In addition to the fact that community penalties lack the denunciatory power and the punitive elements of imprisonment, there is a huge amount of criticism that the idea of punishment turned upside down when considering that offenders often enjoy and continue to work voluntarily after the order expired. This is an opposition to utilitarian theory because the amount of pain derived from the community sentence is not greater than the amount of pleasure that is derived the forbidden activity (reference) Despite the potential of non-custodial sentences as an alternative to custody, magistrates and judges are sceptical of their use particularly when regarding the adequate supervision of offender which is resulting in prisons becoming a massive and seemingly indispensable pillar of contemporary social control (Garland 2001:14), which does not do anything to overcome the contemporary ‘crisis’ experienced with the prison system. Having said that there have also been cases where non-custodial sentences have been imposed on minor offenders who would otherwise have received lesser penalties or none. This proves that there is inconsistency when imposing a sentence. And also, apart from being an excessive invasion of their liberty, this overloads the probation service.
Another form of community penalty is the curfew order (electronic tagging) which is predominantly used for juveniles. Since electronically monitored curfews were introduced and implemented throughout in E&W, their use has increased dramatically from 9,000 cases in 1999 to 53000 in 2004-05 (reference). The Home Office spend over £100 million on the electronic monitoring of curfews. Although the primary purpose of electronic tagging is to monitor a curfew and reduce the opportunities for offenders to commit further crimes during their sentence, this does not prevent the offender from potentially deviating during the day. National Audit Office (NAO) reported that those who breached their curfew were more likely to have committed an office whilst on tag than those who had complied with the curfew (NAO 2006:3:1) In addition to this some offenders have tampered with or removed their tagging device which increase the risk of a breach and the subsequent risk of recidivism. However, some scholars told that reconviction rates vary by offender- some statistics giving more convincing results. Despite the various criticisms, electronic tagging is financially more beneficial compared with incarceration.
Moving on, as a result of tensioning recidivism rates and adverse publicity many critics point their finger at the probation service for its poor job handling. Speaking from their own experience and their knowledge of being part of a wider national probation workforce, staff reported sheer numbers of sickness absences which are sometimes accompanied by feelings of fear and insecurity (BBC News 2009a). These resulted in staff-resignations which further pressurised staff (BBC News, 2009b). Statistics are available to confirm this; each year the probation service commences the supervision of some 165,000 offenders; the caseload on any given day is believed to be in excess of 200,000 (Ministry of Justice 2009: 3). The funding invested to probation service over the recent years to provide more effective and beneficial service, particularly in supervision of community sentenced offenders allowed the service to become a more attractive proposition for the courts, not simply because they felt resources are in place to enable them to use community orders more widely, but also because it is considered by courts to be more efficient and suitable form of treating and training offenders than imprisonment (Ministry Of Justice 2008).
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Given that the service as a whole relies upon the loyalty and integrity of its staff (reference), it is unimpressive that staffs are often feeling “unsupervised and unsupported by their bosses” (BBC News 2009c). In an attempt to reduce workload between the years of 2001-2008, the number of staff involved in the probation service has increased by 37%. This hides the reduction in the number of professionally qualified probation officers by 4%. Despite the rise in number of staff, the ratio of offenders to qualified probation officers has dramatically risen from 31:1 to 40:1, which is an increase of 28% as a result of numerous factors affecting the flows and caseloads. (NPS for England and Wales, 2005) Some of these factors are; the number of cases passing through the courts and the number found guilty; the length of time spent on remand; the custody and court order rates at the courts; and the number of offenders breaching court orders.
Moreover, the role of the probation has expanded in many directions. As though the current workload is not enough, the probation service now has a duty to contact victims about the progress of the case and also give free and emotional support and practical help to victims of crime, their family, friends and anyone who is affected by it. According to _____ this is a rational decision because if the service continued to withdraw ignoring victims it would be targeted publicly and politically for its ‘naiveness’, thus it would also be morally unacceptable to behave as though the offenders need for rehabilitation is more important than victims. Of particular importance is that, according to _________, being equipped with fewer roles and responsibilities would make the service more likely to achieve those aims. Overall, a particular attention must be paid to rising workloads and staff dis-satisfaction, which in itself is bad but what is also important is that it makes the job of the probation service much more difficult and the possibility of rehabilitation and punishment far less likely to be successful than it otherwise would be. For instance, only about half of community sentence orders ran their full-course or at most, the likely offenders were terminated early for good progress. This could possibly be due to the fact the staff in these facilities are under immense pressure which produce hasty decisions, which are then reflected in the recidivism rates (Ministry of Justice 2009: 2).
In order to reach its primary objectives, Multi-Agency Public Protection (MAPPA) was introduced in April 2001 to “improve powerful management system for those offenders who are a potential threat to the community â€¦ensuring that public protection is the priority” (MAPPA, 2005) For the most serious of cases MAPPA can take further actions to prevent distress to citizens. However, the plausibility of this agency is limited. An independent investigation agency, Panorama, revealed that only the top two risk levels, two and three, are tracked by the service. They argue that majority of violent criminals in England and Wales include sex offenders who are only classified as a low risk and subject to less supervision. (Panorama)
In order to protect the public and reduce re-offending, risk assessment forms the basis for successive intervention and management of offenders by identifying harms posed. It is an important feature of the probation service and a core activity of a fully qualified probation officer. The intentions of government ministers for improving the risk assessment is clear; to be seen to be fighting crime on a politically sensitive issue.(reference) However, such an objective was difficult to achieve when traditional ways of working based on professional autonomy led to inconsistency and variation in probation practice. As a solution, over the decade, various risk assessment tools have been developed to eliminate inconsistency, but were, too, often open to criticisms. Ultimately, the creation of OASys sought to fulfil the aims of the prison and probation service by working in partnership with other institutions and also ensuring that probation officers assessed risk against the same criteria in the same previous way. Howard et al (2006:33) highlighted the effectiveness of OASys as the “best of actuarial methods of prediction with structured clinical judgement.” However, critical consequences have been acknowledged by staff such as the loss of autonomy and de-skilling. Many officers complained that their job was becoming increasingly standardised, technical, and routine. (Leach 2004) The same argument was put forward by probation officers in a previous risk assessment tool such as LSI-R. (Robinson 2003). However, such changes in New Labour’s image of the modernized correctional institutions failed to materialise with respect to the protection of ex-prisoners upon release. This could perfectly be explained in the case of Gabriel Ferez and Laurent Bonomo, who were the victims of correctional service for their errors which left offenders free to kill (BBC News 2009c). Equally important, according to Shaw, “in the week following release, prisonersâ€¦ are about 40 times more likely to die then the general population” (2007; 1) because offenders have problems in meeting their basic needs for food and shelter. Their basic needs also act as a barrier to develop relationships with other people. Such arguments are nothing new; as early as in the late 1960s, Dr. Eugene Heimler (1967) provided a convincing argument that when the satisfaction of a man’s basic needs falls below a certain level he finds it increasingly difficult to struggle with his everyday life, with all the pressures and forces of social living.
A step taken by the Labour government to successfully meet its objective of rehabilitating offenders and protecting public was by developing staff. In an attempt to ensure that staff are of the right quality, well trained and efficiently used, labour government have abolished the diploma in Social Work and replaced it by integrating level 4 NVQ and an undergraduate degree to become a probation officer. The underlying reason for a change was to “move beyond a social work curriculum’ by maintaining a university base. (Nellis, 2003: 95) Although the new requirement is much more preferable to the previous, there are some limitations that must not be masked. A major concern is the diminution of “properly contextualised understanding of offending which was the strength of social work training”. (Bhui 2001:1)Thus the emerging question is, though new probation officers may know how to run an effective programme, will they have a good comprehension of wider relevant issues such as social deprivation and so on? Surely this is still a concern for the service for the reason of there being little scope for the probation officers to decide how they want to work due to the introduction of accredited programmes and minimum standards they have to follow. In support, a newspaper article informs that officers spend about 25% of their time face-to-face with offenders (BBC News 2009b) which highlights how technical staffs have become. So rather than being encouraged to do as they are told, officers should be given the environment to think independently as professionals which would also eliminate dissatisfaction and enable them to meet their, and offenders, psychological needs.
Frankly probation service was targeting both, offenders and victims, in its early years, (Smith et al., 1988) but this was not the case in the last decade or two. This
Another problem stemming from punishment in the community is that if an offender is undergoing a probation order of treatment is later charged with a further offence, the court will most likely disapprove its previously given generous opportunity. This will lead to an inclination not only to impose a prison sentence, but an imprisonment longer than that which might otherwise be considered appropriate. This could perfectly be explained in the case of Gabriel Ferez and Laurent Bonomo, who were the victims of correctional service for their errors which left offenders free to kill (BBC News 2009c).
The punishment should be imposed by the court, and rehabilitation should be agreed between the offender and the probation officer. In E&W, although punishments are largely dependent on the court order issued, Carter report told that they do not tend to address the needs of the offender (91).
However, a problem stemming from punishment in the community is that if an offender is undergoing a probation order of treatment is later charged with a further offence, the court will most likely disapprove its previously given generous opportunity. This will lead to an inclination not only to impose a prison sentence, but an imprisonment longer than that which might otherwise be considered appropriate. This could perfectly be explained in the case of Gabriel Ferez and Laurent Bonomo, who were the victims of correctional service for their errors which left offenders free to kill (BBC News 2009c).
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Nonetheless, the ineffectiveness of such roles and responsibilities should not solely be attributed to the probation service or to the Ministry of Justice.
Indeed, they can not find satisfaction in work and recreation, and do not have the motivation to acquire the necessary skills. The likelihood of reintegration is made worse given that many probationers are illiterate. It is possible that illiterate people commit more offences than others, because fewer opportunities are available to them. When the offenders return to their home, they again associate with the society that bred the criminal activity in the first place. Many offenders come from areas where poverty and low education standards overwhelmingly influence criminal behaviour. It can not of course be concluded that illiteracy is alone responsible; other factors can also influence criminal behaviour, such as the care and support shown by teachers and other participants and the fact that these individuals were motivated to seek self-improvement. Surely probation officers should not be held liable to ‘fix’ what education institutions failed to do; teach reading and writing.
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