Where Did It All Go Wrong? Probation Under New Labour and the Coalition

Lol Burke

A Life on Probation

My association with the probation service spans over 30 years as a practitioner, trainer, manager and academic. As a young graduate I was employed in a probation office in inner-city Liverpool. The companionship and camaraderie of my fellow workers during this period shaped my values and developed my understanding of the essence of probation work which is located in a belief that professional relationships can be a powerful tool in stimulating and supporting positive personal change even if the means of achieving this is contested. This is because probation is what Mawby and Worrall (2013, p. 8) term ‘dirty work’ in that it involves interacting with groups of people who can be difficult and are regarded by society in general as undeserving of their efforts. My awareness of social

L. Burke (*)

Liverpool John Moores University, School of Law, Redmonds Building,

Liverpool, UK

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M. Vanstone, P. Priestley (eds.), Probation and Politics, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-59557-7_3

inequality and a respect for social diversity was deepened through my training on the Diploma in Social Work (CQSW) programme. It also enabled me to locate my understanding of probation work within broader theoretical perspectives. On completing my programme of study I worked in a range of probation settings in both prisons and the community. During this time I developed an interest in training and staff development and eventually returned to Liverpool University as a joint-appointment with Merseyside Probation area. Working with the many trainees I had responsibility for stimulated a long-standing interest in the recruitment and training of probation staff and has subsequently formed a strand of my academic writing (see Burke 2010a, 2011a; Millar and Burke 2012). As an academic I have continued to develop my thinking through my teaching and research. Since 2007 I have been editor of Probation Journal. This has placed me in the privileged position of being able to directly challenge some of the policy and practice developments that have taken place during this period as well as hopefully being a ‘critical friend’ to probation. At times it has felt like observing a runaway train as it heads towards an inevitable and potentially catastrophic outcome. Despite this, working with a group of extremely supportive and insightful board members, some of whom are front-line practitioners, has nurtured hope against the political excesses of the recent past.

As a young probation practitioner I was influenced by the quartet of essays written by Bill McWilliams (1983, 1985, 1986, 1987) which explored ‘the history of ideas sustaining the English probation service since its beginnings in the late nineteenth century’ (McWilliams 1987, p. 97). Bill’s writings opened my eyes to the fact that probation’s contemporary challenges are not simply a result of what has been going on in its immediate past but are inextricably tied to the choices, tensions and initiatives that have marked out its history since its formation in the early twentieth century. In exploring probation’s past I have hoped to illuminate and provide a critical commentary on the present, in an attempt to capture an ever evolving period in the history of an all too often misunderstood and under-appreciated part of the criminal justice system in England and Wales, whilst being attentive to the practical realities of working with individuals who offend. This chapter is therefore an attempt to provide an analysis of how contemporary probation policy and practice has been respectively shaped by the New Labour and Coalition governments and to locate my own work within these developments.

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