Women and Probation - Reflecting Back and Looking Ahead

Jill Annison

My engagement with probation spans a period of over 40 years, the early part of which encompassed roles in the 1970s and 1980s as an administrator, trainee probation officer and probation officer (generic and specialist roles). I worked in three different probation areas in the south of England during this part of my career before taking time out to look after my two children, while my husband continued to work as a probation officer. Completion of an Open University degree over this period - I had gained my Certificate of Qualification in Social Work (CQSW) through a non-graduate route - then drew me towards academia. I undertook postgraduate studies and completed my PhD ‘Probing Probation: Issues of Gender and Organisation within the Probation Service’ which, more perceptively than I realised at the time, examined the changes that were happening in probation in the late 1990s

J. Annison (*)

Plymouth Law School, Plymouth University, Plymouth, UK e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© The Author(s) 2016

M. Vanstone, P. Priestley (eds.), Probation and Politics, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-59557-7_2

(Annison 1998). Since then I have been employed as a lecturer at Plymouth University, focusing on probation and, in particular, on women and the criminal justice system (see Annison et al. 2015a).

In reflecting on my early career in the 1970s there are aspects that struck me then, and which have resonance now, in considering the challenges of the current situation. First, probation officers embodied a humanistic approach to working with people which grew from roots as police court missionaries (Chui and Nellis 2003). The clarion call ‘advise, assist and befriend’, now an historical anachronism, informed the guiding principles of my day-to-day work. Second, probation orders made in court included the name of the supervising probation officer, presaging more recent research findings which have emphasised the importance of relationships as part of the pathway to desistance (Burnett and McNeill 2005; Rex and Hosking 2013), particularly for women who have committed offences (see Sheehan et al. 2011). Third, on becoming a trainee probation officer I was ceremoniously presented with a copy of Jarvis’ ‘Probation Officer Manual’ which commenced with the statement, ‘The justices, the local authorities and the Home Office are all involved in the administration of the probation and after-care service, and the relationship between them is a finely balanced one’ (Jarvis 1969, p. 1).

In short, while these arrangements on occasions caused tensions and competing pressures, probation and its staff were clearly located as part of the public sector and embraced public sector values. In thinking back to this aspect of my working life within probation when making the opening speech at NAPO’s Centenary Conference in 2012, I drew attention to the alignment between probation’s traditional value base and the seven principles of public life that the Committee on Standards in Public Life (1995) had identified, namely ‘selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership’. While probation was renowned for some eccentric and independently minded individuals working within the organisation (Burnett 2004; Mawby and Worrall 2013), the vast majority of colleagues with whom I worked implicitly demonstrated their allegiance to such values on a daily basis.

Nevertheless, it is important not to romanticise probation during this time, not least because this was, sequentially, the time of the collapse of the rehabilitative ideal, the promulgation of ‘alternatives to custody’

(Whitehead and Statham 2006), and the publication in 1984 of the Statement of National Objectives, which signified the introduction of the three E’s (economy, efficiency and effectiveness) into probation (May 1991). However, my experience within probation over that period was of working within teams where staff kept under constant review their dual care/control functions (Harris 1980), where the focus was on people (for my later work in this area see Annison et al. 2008) and where probation officers were supervised and supported (in terms of therapeutic casework oversight) by a senior probation officer who had been appointed to the role as ‘primus inter pares’ (Haxby 1978). To summarise, the rigours of new managerialism (May and Annison 1998) and the strictures of ‘What Works’ (Merrington and Stanley 2007) had yet to impact on, and take hold within probation at grassroots level (Mair 2004; Annison 2013b).

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