Wheelchair users are facing a lack of independence due to the discriminatory and disablist attitudes from public transport providers.
Amanda Hanson is an Associate Lecturer in Criminology and Doctoral student. Her research focuses on the topic of Disability Hate Crime with a particular focus on disabled people’s experiences of hate crimes/incidents and understanding how these experiences impact victims and families and how they want these issues responded to.
Taxi drivers are taking their foot off the gas: wheelchair users facing a lack of independence due to the discriminatory and disablist attitudes from public transport providers.
We live in a society where disabled people routinely suffer identity-based discrimination resulting in them being made to feel unequal.
The recent article published by the BBCon the experience of disabled actress Ruth Madeley by a taxi driver, where he told her it was “too difficult” to drop her at an accessible entrance and it wasn’t his problem if she couldn’t use stairs, highlights just one example of disablist attitudes by transport providers.
This concurs with my current research where a severely visually impaired woman was dropped at the side of a busy road by a taxi driver, for which she then had to struggle to get across to the other side safely.
This kind of behaviour by taxi drivers is more widespread within society than people may think. While many taxi drivers don’t discriminate or have disablist attitudes some do.
My research has found that wheelchair users are being told by taxi operators there are no accessible taxis available and that taxi drivers themselves are refusing to take those in powered wheelchairs.
One individual stated, “I approached five taxis who all refused to take me home when my power wheelchair was about to die”
If they do finally manage to access a taxi, they are being charged higher rates compared to those who are able-bodied.
These extra charges have previously been highlighted in an undercover study carried out by BBC’s Inside Out in 2015. There has also been one landmark case where a taxi driver was taken to court after refusing to take a wheelchair user to the train station and causing her to become upset and missing her train.
Yet, six years on cases like this are still occurring and there seems to be a lack of consequence for the taxi drivers who are committing these discriminatory acts.
This is a clear breach of the Equality Act 2010 sect 165 & 167 which includes a requirement for drivers to accept and assist wheelchair users and make no extra charge. As a society, we should be calling out behaviour that treats people unequally and unfairly as unacceptable. Local authorities should be implementing licence bans for those committing this kind of behaviour, as this targeting of wheelchair users should be deemed prejudicial.
Many wheelchair users rely on taxis rather than public transport, they are more convenient, and they are preferable especially when considering the negative often hostile attitudes that disabled people regularly experience from other passengers and public transport staff (Wilkin 2019).
Disabled people often suffer isolation due to their disability which prevents them from fully taking part in society. Last year marked the celebration of 25 years since the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. While this legislation was a step in the right direction, one of those being the recognition of the lack of access to transport for disabled individuals, these access issues are still happening in the 21st century and this is a clear reminder that more needs to be done.
Similarly, numerous studies highlight that disabled people face economic disadvantages and are more likely to be living in poverty compared to those who are able-bodied. These higher charges are impacting upon them financially. Therefore, this discriminatory behaviour from taxi drivers serves to compound the existing problems that disabled people have faced for years.
The key focus requires taking a stand against attitudes that reinforce disablism. Public organisations like Local Authority Licensing departments need to develop public communications and implement awareness-raising to challenge these discriminatory mindsets and practices, to help safeguard wheelchair users and implement consequences for those who continue to exhibit discriminatory and disablist attitudes.
The implementation of these kinds of strategies would be a step in the right direction to address the extent of this issue, to allow equal provision for wheelchair users, in order for them to regain their independence within society.
Kerry Carrington is a Research Professor at the Centre for Justice Queensland University of Technology, and Fellow of the Academy of SocialSciences. Kerry leads multi-lingual research teams across the globe on southernizing criminology projects. She’s the Founding Editor of the Open Access International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy.
What needs de-colonising? Metropolitan thinking in criminology
Metropolitan thinking rests on a linear, panoramic and unifying standpoint in which space, and geo-political and social difference, are erased in the imperial narrative of time. This temporal logic constructs societies peripheral to the epicentres of colonial power as backward. Hence the division of the world into ‘developing’ and ‘developed’, ‘first’ and ‘third’ worlds, in which the global north is depicted as leading the way to an advanced stage of civilisation (Carrington and Hogg et al, 2018: 6). A multitude of perspectives, de-colonial, post-colonial, Indigenous, southern, southern feminist, and subaltern theories have criticised this way of dividing the world and measuring human progress (Aas, 2012; Agozino, 2010; Brown, 2018; Campos, 2018; Carrington et al., 2016; Connell, 2007; Cunneen, 2018; de Magalhães Gomes, 2018; de Sousa Santos, 2014; Leon, 2021; Lui, 2009; 2017; Mignolo, 2011; Travers, 2019).
According to this logic, social phenomena in the ‘periphery’ would be investigated from the standpoint of universal theories and laws of development generated in ‘modern’ or ‘Western’ societies of the Global North (Connell, 2007). The South could be mined for data, as for other raw materials, but little in the way of novel ideas or theoretical insights of anything more than local interest could be yielded by the social scientific enterprise in the South. Connell calls this ‘metropolitan’ thinking (Connell 2007: 215). We argue this has also been true for criminology (Carrington, Hogg and Sozzo, 2016).
Why southern? A metaphor for centre/periphery relations of power
Raewyn Connell deliberately chose the label southern for three reasons. First, to direct attention to periphery-centre relations of power and the epistemic privilege of the universities of the global north, where around 90% of the world’s journals, universities, resources for doing research reside. The south is conceptualised as a metaphor for the unequal economic, political and intellectual power relations embedded in metropolitan thinking. Second, to highlight the fact that social theory can be developed from the periphery – not just the centres of power and epistemic privilege. And third, that social thought is positioned – specific to place and the land, not universal or timeless (Connell, 2007: viii-ix). This means there are multiple – not dichotomous- epistemologies of south and north, east and west, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. When taken in its metaphorical sense, the ‘south’ refers to the peripheral voices located anywhere in the world. The South and North are not homogeneous or mutually exclusive spaces or categories. This is a prominent theme in the work of critical criminologists like Elliot Currie, who argues that ‘we cannot begin to grasp either the nature or origins of America’s outsized problem of violent crime (or of punishment) without placing the ‘Southern’ legacy in the foreground’ (Currie, 2018: 44). He is referring to the history of slavery and transportation of 10-15 million Africans to the Americas (north and south) from the 16th century.
Border thinking and de-colonising knowledge
Boaventura de Sousa Santos stresses that the task of de-colonising knowledge is complex, gigantic, and in some contexts, born of struggle against capitalism, patriarchy and colonialism (2020: 220-27). He argues there are two main projects of de-colonising knowledge – one negative and the other positive. The negative championed by decolonial theory is to critique and root out ethnocentric, racist and anglocentric biases of knowledge systems. This journey has many champions. The positive and more challenging project is the constructive work of building the epistemologies of the south (de Santos Sousa, 2020: 226). The plural is deliberate as the key to disrupting the hegemony of northern epistemologies is to build diverse epistemologies, through what he calls border thinking. This journey has fewer champions, of which I am one.
de Sousa Santos argues there can be no global justice without cognitive justice (de Sousa Santos 2014: viii). Like Connell, he is critical of the way the history of the social sciences has projected itself as an emancipatory project while its modernist ideals remained based on the experience of metropolitan societies (de Sousa Santos 2014: 71). However, unlike many post-or de-colonial theorists who see little worth recovering from Northern theories, de Sousa Santos does imagine that a non-Occidentalist West is a possibility (de Sousa Santos 2014: 114). Consequently, he rejects the reductionism of post-colonial/decolonial theories that reify and essentialise concepts, such as Eastern or Indigenous knowledge and stand them in outright opposition to Western scientific knowledge (de Sousa Santos 2014: 212). Rather, he opts for border thinking, inter-cultural thinking and ways of knowing which offer an escape from the colonising effects of the global episteme. He defines these alternative knowledges as necessarily limited as opposed to the universalising claims of metropolitan thought (de Sousa Santos 2014: 212). Border thinking occurs in the spaces in between, with the view that ‘knowledges that may be refounded, reconfigured, and reconstructed in such a way that they may be put at the service of anti-capitalist, anti-colonial, and anti-patriarchal struggles’ (de Sousa Santos, 2020: 225). It is futile to challenge the global hierarchy of knowledge by resurrecting alternative origin stories or ‘founding fathers’, as some de-colonial theorists have done. This engages in the same rhetorical strategy of producing false binaries as does metropolitan thought (Connell, 2007: xi).
Southernizing criminology as a salve for its metropolitan thinking
The southernizing of criminology acts as a salve for the biases of metropolitan thinking (Hughes, 2020: 194). Southern criminologies (and the plural is deliberate as there is no single unifying voice from the global south), contest the universalism of theories based on knowledge specific to English speaking countries of the north Atlantic world. They question linear models of progress and colonialist constructions of justice used in criminology to measure other justice systems as backward, exotic or primitive and challenge criminological theories that erase the historical legacies of colonialism, slavery and structured global inequality.
As a theoretical project the southernizing of criminology seeks to reorient and correct hegemonic biases, to expand the repertoire of criminological knowledges beyond their heavily laden northern gaze. It is premised on the recognition that North and South are globally interconnected in ways and with effects, both historical and contemporary, which warrant careful inquiry and analysis in criminological research, theoretical, and policy agendas (Carrington et al 2016; 2019). De-colonising criminology steers a tricky pathway along what the Bengali social scientist Chakrabarty (2007) calls conceptual pragmatism that accepts knowledge is so embedded with metropolitan thought it is not possible to completely disentangle it from its hegemony (Chakrabarty, 2007) (see Brown 2018). But a criminology that aims to decenter, democratize and pluralize knowledge by injecting it with knowledge from the south and the periphery is possible. Indeed, rather than creating divisions, southern criminologies seek to build epistemological bridges, based on the premise that an important form of decolonial action is achieved by ‘affecting and transforming the contents of Western science, through the use of knowledge, realities and cosmologies’ of the south (Goyes, 2018: 337).
As an empirical project, epistemologies of the south seek to cultivate knowledges of and from the periphery that have been relatively invisible or marginalized (Alvirti et al., 2021; Carrington, Hogg and Sozzo, 2016; Carrington et al., 2018; Carrington, Goyes, et al., 2019; Goyes, 2019; Fonseca, 2018; Valdés-Riesco, 2020). One of the emphases is to reinsert the historical legacies of colonialism back into analysis of contemporary crime and justice. Not in the same way as comparative criminology has done it, by drawing comparisons framed by an orientalism or elitism that constructs non-western societies as ‘exotic,’ ‘primitive’ or the ‘other’ (Liu, 2011; 2017). Southern epistemologies seek ‘to contemplate life, crime and social order outside the metropolitan North, … (and) to find new ways of thinking about phenomena so that the South is understood on its own terms’ (Brown, 2018: 83).
One of the problems with theories of decolonisation, has been the tendency to essentialise race and romanticise ethnicity. This argues Camilla de Magalhães Gomes (2018; 2021), makes invisible the gender of colonality. She is critical of the lack of gender perspectives in the work of de-colonial theorists insisting that ‘gender is a category of decolonial analysis’ (de Magalhães Gomes, 2021: 1). Attempts at de-colonizing feminist theory and social science are not new (eg. Mohanty, 1991; Lugones, 2010). What is relatively new is the emergence of southern feminisms (Campos, 2020; Giraldo, 2016; Lima Costa, 2014; Tlostanova, et al., 2016; Rodriguez Castro, 2020), that aim to docolonise and democratise feminist theory (Connell, 2015: 59), by embracing a mosaic of epistemologies (Connell, 2015: 59) using border thinking (Tlostanova, et al., 2016). ‘Feminist border thinking is a horizontal transversal networking of different local histories and sensibilities mobilised through a number of common, yet pluriversal and open categories’ (Tlostanov, et al., 2016: 217).
As Leon Mossavi (2018) rightly points out, there have been previous attempts to unpack and jettison what he calls ‘westernised criminology’—to trans-nationalize it (Aas, 2012; Bowling, 2011) and to decolonize it (Agozino, 2010; Cunneen, 2011; 2018). What differentiates southern criminologies from these critiques, however, is that it eschews the romanticization of ‘the other’; based on identity, class, race, Indigeneity or ethnicity (Cain, 2000). That southern criminologies are not in principle oppositional projects which rest on identity politics, does not make them, as some armchair critics suggest, a form of incorporation or a bandwagon (Moosavi, 2020). Nor is it ‘a defensive reflex, designed to exonerate Anglo-spheric theory from complicity in epistemic violence’ (Blagg and Anthony, 2019: 6). Their book titled, Decolonising Criminology critiques criminologies of the south without even referencing a single example. It was reviewed by Tharawal woman, Robyn Oxley an early career Indigenous scholar, who pointed out that Blagg and Anthony quote very few Indigenous scholars, concluding: ‘For non-Aboriginal scholars who have built their careers on the backs of Aboriginal people, the time has come to make space for Indigenous scholars’ (Oxley, 2020: 180-181).
The crude simplistic critiques of southern criminologies published in privileged journals in United States and England overlook the many shared similarities between those who aim to decolonize knowledge through decolonial critique, what Dimou refers to as ‘the decolonial option’ (2021:1), and those who seek to decolonize knowledge through constructing southern epistemologies through border thinking and intercultural collaboration (i.e. Aliverti et al., 2019; Carrington, et al., 2016; Carrington, Goyes et al., 2019; Fonseca, 2018; Goyes, 2018; Goyes and South, forthcoming; Lui, 2017; Travers, 2019; Walklate, 2016; Zaffaroni, 2015). Those who critique it as a project led by a bunch of Australians completely misunderstand how the southernizing of criminology pursues a series of practical decolonizing projects all over the world, involving hundreds if not thousands of scholars from a great many cultures, continents and languages. Many initiated by scholars in other languages, whose activities are rendered entirely invisible by these crude critiques. These projects create opportunities for border thinking and intercultural communication through real world conferences, discussion groups, open access journal publication, supporting scholars with southern criminology scholarships, mentoring, bi-lingual events and other collaborations. International conferences seeking to southernize criminology have been convened five times in Australia and twice in Latin America, both times with simultaneous translation, funded by QUT Centre for Justice. Recently the Centre of Criminology, University of Oxford co-hosted a multi-lingual conference with Universidad Nacional del Litoral, Argentina on Punishment in the Global Peripheries and formed a discussion group on southernizing criminology. The Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research has established formal links with universities in the global south as a practical commitment to bridging global divides and decolonizing criminology. Universities in Latin America have been at the forefront of developing southern epistemologies, criminologies and southern feminisms for decades (eg Lugones, Mignolo, Sozzo and Zafaroni, leading figures in these debates are all from Argentina). The Asian Criminological Society, has also been pioneering alternative knowledges to anglo-centric northern criminology since 2006 (Carrington, Goyes, et al., 2019).
Another practical form of decolonisation is citing and publishing in Open Access journals which disseminate knowledge outside the capitalist model that makes knowledge a commodity behind paywalls. Criminology Open championed by Scott Jacques from Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Georgia State University, Atlanta, is a practical illustration of how all of us can contribute to the democratisation of criminology, regardless of positionality or identity. This website provides open sources for students, academics and the public, and urges ‘we must make our works freely available to everyone’.
The open access journal published by QUT Centre for Justice, International Journal for Crime Justice and Social Democracy, of which I am the founding editor, is dedicated to de-colonising and democratising knowledge through open access publishing, creative commons copyright ensuring authors retain their own intellectual property rights. It has:
112 Editorial Board members from 22 countries, 2 Indigenous to Australia, one Pacific Islander and many multi-lingual members from Latin America, Asia and other parts of the global south and north.
1230 authors from 60 countries have cited the Journal’s articles affiliated with 441 institutions around the world
contributing authors have come from 38 countries and 157 institutions
10% of the published articles are about Indigenous/Aboriginal or First Nations Issues – one of the highest proportion in the world (Goyes and South, forthcoming)
publishes and funds early career researchers to do translations
publishes some articles in multiple languages
The democratisation of knowledge through open access publishing that is free to download and publish disrupts the profiteering of corporate publishing giants like Elsevier. Anyone in criminology can participate in the project of decolonising knowledge by supporting, citing, founding, and publishing in open access journals and modes of publication.
Unlike the negative decolonial projects (which have their place), the project of southernizing criminology does not set out to denigrate the contribution of metropolitan criminology– or to damn all criminologists as ‘racist’, ‘westerncentric’ ‘control freaks’ on some sort of ‘bandwagon’. Rather than creating divisions the projects of southern criminologies seek to bridge global divides precisely as form of a decolonial praxis in action.
Kerry Carrington took the photograph at the top of the article in Argentina in 2019. “It’s a mural painted by a survivor of domestic violence, it says ‘Break the Silence’. The research was done in Spanish with a team from Argentina. Here’s the link to the project and team”.https://research.qut.edu.au/pgv/
Blagg, Harry, and Thalia Anthony. (2019). Decolonising Criminology: Imagining Justice in a Postcolonial World. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Bowling, Ben. (2011). Transnational Criminology and the Globalization of Harm Production. In Mary Bosworth and Carolyn Hoyle (Eds.), What Is Criminology (pp. 361–77). Oxford: Oxford University Press
Brown, M. (2018). Southern Criminology in the Post-colonality: More than a derivative discourse. In K. Carrington, R. Hogg, J. Scott, & M. Sozzo (Eds.), The Palgrave handbook of criminology and the global south (pp. 83–104). Cham: Palgrave Macmillan
Cain, M. (2000). Orientalism, occidentalism and the sociology of crime. The British Journal of Criminology, 40(2) 239–260. https://doi.org/10
Campos, C. H. (2020). Criminologia Feminista: Teoria Feminista e Críticas às Criminologias [Feminist Criminology: Feminist Theory and Critiques of Criminologies]. Rio de Janeiro: Lumen Juris.
Cunneen, C. (2011). Postcolonial perspectives for criminology. In M. Bosworth & C. Hoyle (Eds.), What is criminology? (pp. 249–266). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Cunneen, C. (2018). Indigenous challenges for Southern Criminology. In K. Carrington, R. Hogg, J. Scott, & M. Sozzo (Eds.), The Palgrave handbook of criminology and the global south (pp. 19–42). Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.
Currie, E. (2017). Confronting the North’s South: On race and violence in the United States. International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 6(1), 23–34. https://doi.org/10.5204/ijcjs d.v6i1.382.
de Magalhães Gomes, Camilla de (forthcoming 2021) Notes on gender, race and punishment from a decolonial perspective to a Southern Criminology agenda, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 10 (4)
de Sousa Santos, B. (2014). Epistemologies of the south: Justice against epistemicide. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers
de Sousa Santos, B. (2020) Declonizing the University. In Constructing the Epistemologies of the Global South: knowledges born in the struggle. In de Sousa Santos, B. and Meneses, P (eds). Routledge, Taylor Francis Group, New York, pp, 219-237.
Dimou, E. (2021) Decolonizing Southern Criminology: What Can the ‘Decolonial Option’ Tell Us About Challenging the Modern/Colonial Foundations of Criminology?. Critical Criminology. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10612-021-09579-9
Fonseca, D S (2018) Reimagining the sociology of punishment through the global South: Postcolonial social control and modernization discontents. Punishment & Society 20(1): 54–72
Goyes, D. R. (2018). Green criminology as decolonial tool: A stereoscope of environmental harm. In K. Carrington, R. Hogg, J. Scott, & M. Sozzo (Eds.), The Palgrave handbook of criminology and the global south (pp. 323–346). Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.
Goyes, D. R. (2019). Green southern criminology: Science against ecological discrimination. Bingley: Emerald Publishing
Liu, J. (2017). The Asian criminological paradigm and how it links global north and south: Combining an extended conceptual toolbox from the north with innovative Asian contexts. International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 6(1), 73–87. https://doi.org/10.5204/ijcjsd.v6i1.385.
Mignolo, Walter D. (2011). The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Mohanty, Chandra Talpade (1991) Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses. In: Chandra, Talpade Mohanty, Ann, Russo, Lourdes, Torres (eds) Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, pp. 51–80.
Moosavi L. (2020) The decolonial bandwagon and the dangers of intellectual decolonisation, International Review of Sociology, 30:2, 332-354, DOI: 10.1080/03906701.2020.1776919
Oxley, R. (2020). Review of Harry Blagg and Thalia Anthony (2019) Decolonising Criminology: Imagining Justice in a Postcolonial World. London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan. International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 9(3), 180-182. https://doi.org/10.5204/ijcjsd.v9i3.1618
Tlostanova, M. Thapar-Björkert, S. Koobak, R. (2016) Border thinking and disidentification: Postcolonial and postsocialist feminist dialogues, Feminist Theory: Special Issue Southern Feminisms Volume: 17 (2): 211-228 https://doi.org/10.1177/1464700116645878
Travers, M., 2019. The idea of a southern criminology. International journal of comparative and applied criminal justice, 43 (1), 1–12.
Valdés-Riesco, A, (2020). Can the subaltern speak in criminology? Analysing the production of knowledge on crimes of the powerful in the 21st century through Latin American postcolonial lenses. International journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 10 (1), 30–51.
Walklate, S. (2016). Whither criminology: Its global futures? Asian Journal of Criminology, 11(1), 47–59. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11417-015-9223-0.
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The Probation Service – what will survive of probation practice, post Transforming Rehabilitation and reintegration?
Anne Burrell is a Social work trained Probation practitioner, still at the workface, whilst undertaking a part time PhD at De Montfort Uni, researching professional identity in probation.
Saturday June 26 was a significant date in the 110-year history of the probation service in England – the day when the privatised Community Rehabilitation Companies were reintegrated with the public sector National Probation Service, thus returning probation work (well, most of it…) back into the public sector.
It’s notable, and also a little perplexing, that this major reversal of a flagship Conservative-Liberal Democrat government policy was timed to occur on a Saturday – when there would be a much-reduced practitioner demographic actually working on that day.
It’s also notable, if less perplexing, that this significant policy shift received scant media attention. The BBC news website referenced it eventually, as did the Guardian. And a loyal member of my own family tweeted a small, outraged, message, plaintively querying why there was so little attention paid to this event.
The truth is that the profile of Probation work remains consistently low and off the radar. And the other truth is that probation practitioners, by and large, prefer it that way – doing solid work, day in and day out, with a minimum of fuss, and, ideally, a minimum of publicity.
A recent HMIP report into recall practice identified that anxieties regarding adverse publicity was a significant factor for practitioners in decisions regarding enforcement for people being supervised on licence. This consideration reflects the fairly recent politicisation of probation, arguably originating with the Labour government of 1997, which initiated a series of reviews, policies, and legislative measures laying the groundwork for much that is now core to probation practice. In an overview of 21st century probation work, Whitehead notes that ‘the haemorrhaging hearts and misplaced humanitarian social consciences of social radicals and liberals, those with recalcitrant ideological inclinations, operating with a misguided social work philosophy out of step with the modernising and reformist zeitgeist, had to be brought into line as the new political brush swept all before it.’ He goes on to note that these policies generated both NOMS (the National Offender Management Service), and privatisation – neither of which could be said to have been successful, and both of which are now consigned to history.
Subsequently, and over the last two decades, Probation work has been subject to a seemingly relentless series of government interventions, purportedly aimed at improving efficiency and raising standards, which appear also to have had the unanticipated outcome of undermining professional confidence and autonomy in the staff who carry out the work. In fact, I have begun to wonder if the diminution of the professional role may actually be the secondary objective of government policy, reflecting the bureaucratisation and managerialism which now characterise public services more broadly, including teaching, social work, and delivery of health services. (The primary objective with regard to Probation appears to remain that of looking tough on crime.)
In any event, the part privatisation of Probation reflected a specific ideology regarding the diminution of the role of the state, and the purported strengths of the market in delivering imaginative and cost-effective interventions in what have traditionally been seen as public duties and responsibilities. In practice, the well-rehearsed litany of systemic failures across both the CRCs and the NPS post Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) appear to have contributed to the current process of reintegration.
On June 30, 2021, returning to my office base for my first working day as an employee of The Probation Service, I was thrilled to see that a number of staff were already present – in itself a novelty, after the 15-month hiatus of remote working, implemented via the Exceptional Delivery Model, put in place to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. I was even more excited to see that a number of the attendees were former colleagues, and amazed to realise that it was seven years since we last shared an office space. For the first time in a long while, it felt as if I was back with my tribe – a warm sense of belonging suffused the catch ups and the chats…
But I swiftly realised that this benign sense of wellbeing is likely to be limited to a minority of staff, and possibly to be short lived. The majority of probation workers will have known no other context than working for a CRC, or for the NPS. The two organisational cultures remain vastly different, and there are anxieties and tensions on both sides. CRC staff are being welcomed, which slightly gives the impression that it is the NPS which is hosting the party – a perception compounded by the lengthy lists of mandatory training (online) which staff will be required to complete; the inevitable glitches as IT equipment is distributed and operationalised; the eternal conundrum of navigating the Single Operating Platform (SOP); and, much more seriously, worrying concerns for some practitioners regarding their former CRC role in The Probation Service model. Each individual will experience reintegration in very different ways, and, for many, the sense of diminution of autonomy and authority is likely to be a significant feature.
The Probation Service will inevitably take a period of time to settle, and to start to perform effectively. The Probation Service Target Operating Model for future practice has many good things to say about aspirations and expectations in the Service’s future – much of it recognisable as the basis for the traditional principles of probation work: valuing the individual, recognising the possibility of personal change, and the integral role of the one-to-one supervisory relationship, sustained over time. In the aftermath of Transforming Rehabilitation, many practitioners described a sense of feeling deskilled and uncertain in their professional role. It seems likely that this sense of dislocation will be a feature of the early stages of probation work in the coming months.
Two things give me optimism for the future of The Probation Service. Firstly, the characteristics of people who work in probation, which have remained astonishingly consistent over time. And, relatedly, the culture of probation as an organisation. In their study of probation practice and culture, Mawby and Worrall refer to the characteristics of probation work, including the drive to achieve job satisfaction, notably through building relationships with the people subject to supervision; and, relatedly, a sense of meaning derived from the job, which many practitioners regard as a vocation. Pre TR, they argued that this approach had survived, notwithstanding the myriad restructures and reorganisations of probation. Whatever the challenges of reintegration, it is not a naive aspiration that recent and future events may continue to assert the continuity, and validity, of this judgement.