The Rise of Risk in Probation Work: Historical Reflections and Future Speculations

Hazel Kemshall

My Journey into Risk

I qualified as a Probation Officer in 1984. I began my probation career in the Juvenile Justice Bureau in Warwickshire Probation Service, dealing with fairly routine cases and a range of young people encompassing those cautioned and diverted from court, those on probation supervision and those in young offender institutions. The role was varied, at times challenging, but notably it gave me my first insight into multi-agency responses to offending, an approach I never forgot. From Warwickshire I went to the Homeless Offenders Unit, in the West Midlands. The office was situated in a rather run-down inner city area of Birmingham, and the work involved resettlement of long-term prisoners on release, community supervision of parolees

H. Kemshall (*)

School of Applied Social Sciences,

De Montfort University, The Gateway, Leicester, UK

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M. Vanstone, P. Priestley (eds.), Probation and Politics, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-59557-7_11

and management of life licences. At that time the unit held almost all of the West Midlands Probation Service’s Schedule One sex offenders against children, high-risk cases and those facing the trials and tribulations of resettlement after very long prison sentences. The work also involved regular contact with hostels, ‘wet shelters’ for homeless alcoholics and premises catering for mentally disordered individuals. The ‘step-up’ in terms of case work challenges could not have been more stark, but my period there focused my attention on how probation officers assessed risk, not only of re-offending, but of seriously harmful offending, particularly as we were relocating those who had committed grave crimes back into the community. These issues crystallised on my appointment as a Senior Probation Officer of a Through Care team, providing supervision of parole licences, resettlement and access back into employment for longer term prisoners. What struck me throughout my practice career was the lack of focus and assessment of risk issues and a tendency to ‘give offenders the benefit of the doubt’, even where patterns of serious offending were very well established. Following a period as a Senior Probation Officer I joined the Social Work Department at Birmingham University, where I was jointly responsible for the probation training course. This appointment led me into research, with a very early grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to investigate how probation officers assessed and managed risk. The results of this study became my first book: Risk in Probation Practice (1998a); and this was followed by a commission to write the first Home Office Training Manual on risk assessment and management (Kemshall 1997), followed by a similar training pack in Scotland (Kemshall 1998b). Thus began my career in risk. This career has seen me investigate front-line practice with risk, the assessment and management of high-risk cases, multi-agency responses to risky offenders and the development of practice guidance, training materials, policies and procedures. In over 20 years working with risk, two central concerns have underpinned my work throughout this period: the need to make defensible decisions for the protection of staff and the public and a wish to improve public safety.

 
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