The rehabilitation aim of probation officers at odds with UK Government punishment agenda

Attitudes and beliefs of trainee probation officers: A ‘new breed’?

From Probation Journal

In recent years the UK Government has been placing less emphasis on the idea of probation as a form of rehabilitation, instead re-framing it as ‘punishment in the community,’ with a focus on protecting the public. It has promoted the idea that it has got tougher although still retaining a commitment to some form of rehabilitation. The Government also removed the requirement for probation officers to qualify as social workers. This research examines the attitudes of trainee probation officers and reveals a contrast with the Government’s approach: the main reason given for joining the service was to engage on a humanistic level with offenders and to offer ‘help’. There was little support for a law enforcement or control agenda. Attitudes did not seem to alter as a result of training.

Should the respondents in this study be more widely representative of probation practitioners and continue to hold these attitudes, beliefs and values there may be implications for the probation service and for them as individuals, as well as for broader organizational level. This observation raises some concerns about potential clashes and low levels of resistance, others can see an opportunity for something positive as the attitudes and beliefs reported upon provide some hope that the outcome, i.e. ‘real practice conducted by practitioners, can continued to be based on a more humanistic, person-based approach.


As part of their attempts to re-package probation supervision as ‘punishment in the community’ and concerned with risk assessment and the protection of the public, recent Conservative and Labour governments abolished social work training for probation offi cers and, over the last 10 years have sought to recruit trainees from a wider base than previously and train them in these new objectives. This study looks at the attitudes of two cohorts of trainees over a range of issues and concludes that they may be more ‘traditional’ in terms of these attitudes than government may have wished.

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Article details:
Deering, J. (2010). Attitudes and beliefs of trainee probation officers: A ‘new breed’? Probation Journal, 57 (1), 9-26 DOI: 10.1177/0264550509354671

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