The value of values in probation practice?
The value of values in probation practice?
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter discusses the nature of probation values and the impact structural and organisational changes have had on the development of professional values and their relevance to contemporary probation practice. The impact of the different ‘sides’ that the person on supervision, practitioner and organisation might experience is considered, along with the impact of the ideological pressures of current penal policy. It argues that values remain of high value to practitioners regardless of the future shape of criminal justice provision, and that an inclusive debate about the nature of values and a statement of ethics for practice is necessary to ensure a professional rights based and anti-discriminatory practice in the future. It suggests that professional registration may be a consideration to achieve a professional identity within probation and the increasingly wide range of service providers likely in the future.
Probation values have proved somewhat elusive in recent years. While the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) and Probation Trusts have values statements, it is evident that there has been limited discussion of what they mean for practice. The key question posed in this chapter is what value a clear understanding of a professional value base for practice and the different strands to the values debate have in supporting the professional development of probation practitioners. Here, the particular focus is on practitioners undertaking the qualifying programmes for probation officers (often now termed ‘offender managers’ [OMs]).
The theme running throughout the chapters in this book is that of ‘sides’. Becker (1967) and, more recently, Liebling (2001) both reference the notion of ‘sides’ and analyse the implications of whose ‘side’ you might be ‘on’ as a researcher of crime and criminal justice agencies, respectively.Although the roles discussed in this chapter are not those of researchers, there is much in their work that is relevant to the debate about probation values and their context that may offer a differing perspective, and one that helps to illuminate the relationships between the organisation, practitioners and those under supervision. The issue of ‘sides’ has never been more pertinent to the consideration of the values for professional practice than in the current political context (MOJ, 2013).This chapter explores the current debates about values, the different levels at which values need to be considered and how they impact on professional development. It also explores how theorising about ‘sides’ may support the learner in developing their understanding and identifying a value base for professional practice in turbulent times.
The debate about values in probation occurs in the context of an increasingly challenging environment, both outside and within the service. The broader economic and political climate of penal policy has seen a shift towards a more pecuniary approach to the measurement of performance and success, and a progressively more punitive emphasis in criminal justice interventions (MOJ, 2012a, 2012b, 2013). Growing resource pressures, the introduction of a competitive market and the complex demands on Probation Trusts to deliver public protection and value for money, all contribute to the various demands on practitioners. These are compounded by challenges from academia to the ‘What Works’ approach (Mair, 2004; Brayford et al, 2010), which was championed and heavily resourced through accredited programmes of intervention over the last decade (Chapman and Hough, 1998; McGuire, 2000).
Any discussion of values for practice in the criminal justice context needs to take account of the ‘different levels’ at which values operate, these being: the structural/political values that shape penal policy; organisational values; values for professional practice and conduct; and the personal values that the individual practitioner brings to their role (Lancaster, 2008; Robinson, 2011). It is perhaps the difference between these values, the way in which they are interlinked and influence each other, and the tensions between them that together form a complex – and, at times, abstract and conceptual – minefield for the learner (Thompson, 2012).
The removal of probation training from within the professional social work qualification in the mid-1990s marked the shift away from a social work value base (Nellis and Gelsthorpe, 2003; Whitehead and Statham, 2006). This value base had many useful concepts, but not all could be easily imported into contemporary probation practice and, in some cases, they were misused to disguise poor practice, particularly in relation to consistency and anti-discriminatory practice (ADP) (Faulkner, 2008). However, cutting the ties with social work meant moving away from a stated code of ethics and an academic body of literature that supported practitioners through their learning and a developmental process in relation to understanding values (Senior, 1984). While values and ADP have been embedded within the previous and current professional probation qualification frameworks, they have not been accompanied with the same wealth of entry-level academic literature to support professional learning and continuing professional development (CPD) as is available to other human service professions. This clearly (p.167) carries the inherent risk of misunderstanding and disengagement with the necessary debates in respect of values and ethics in relation to professional practice in the offender management context.
In a small-scale study, Deering (2010) found evidence to suggest that the values of trainee probation officers on the Diploma in Probation Studies (DiPS) programme that replaced social work training were still more consistent with a traditional social work value base than anticipated. This may be explained by the values informing career choices. For some trainees, there was a dichotomy between perceptions of their own professional values and those required by organisational and political governance, thus creating potential for dissonance between the professional and their organisational context. The increased focus on the ‘utility’ of learning for practice (Millar and Burke, 2012), which reflects the shifting priorities of the organisation, may well serve as a further barrier to the discourse on values for effective offender management, and may reduce opportunities for acculturation into professional values systems. There are a number of risks in allowing this situation to flourish, not least the development of a culture of ‘subterranean’ values, which could militate against open and reflective debate about ethical practice and its underpinning values within the workplace,and most certainly would not support a healthy professional culture. Indeed, this could allow for misunderstandings and misinterpretations to take hold without the benefit of professional challenge, discussion or open examination in supervision, thus undermining accountable practice and, indeed, legitimacy (Gelsthorpe, 2007; Canton and Eadie, 2008).
The contemporary literature specifically on probation values is not yet plentiful, although there is a growing body of academic debate and analysis (Nellis, 2005; Gelsthorpe, 2007; Faulkner, 2008; Canton, 2011; Millar and Burke, 2012).There is a broader literature that explores the history of the service and the changing culture of the organisation and probation values (Vanstone, 2004; Whitehead and Statham, 2006; Senior, 2007; Mair and Burke, 2012).This offers detailed accounts of the past, but attention to the future is understandably circumspect given the volatile futures envisaged (Raynor, 2012). The constant state of flux within probation has not offered the stability necessary to support the development of a coherent and established literature on values for learners. Also, until recently, much of the literature has focused primarily on the debate at a political and organisational level (eg Nellis, 2005; Gelsthorpe, 2007; Senior, 2007; Lancaster, 2008). Although useful critical analysis, this has not always been easily accessible for those practitioners at earlier stages of their professional learning journey who (p.168) are trying to navigate the maze of complex ethical decision-making inherent in the OM role.
Nonetheless, the literature on professional probation values is growing. However, much of this is written for an academic audience (Gelsthorpe, 2007), and practice-based guidance has been somewhat lacking until recently.Thankfully, this is a changing picture (Canton, 2007, 2011; Robinson, 2011), and the body of work that is available does provide a basis for debate about the nature of values and their importance to offender management practice in the contemporary context.
Developing an understanding of values for professional practice
It is important to begin the professional learning journey with an exploration of personal values. Developing a reflexive approach to understanding personal values and the impact of the self on the dynamics of the supervisory process is a necessary foundation for practice. Without this insight, it is difficult to explore professional values and for OMs to challenge their own beliefs and practice wisdom and the impact these might have on those under supervision. It is the starting point for the exploration of key concepts around values such as respect, discrimination/anti-discrimination, fairness, decency and public protection, rights, and accountability (Canton, 2007;Thompson, 2012).
At earlier stages in the career of the OM, it is perhaps easier to engage learners in thinking around respect, ADP, inclusion and human rights, as they are often responsible for working with individuals deemed to pose a lower risk to the community and who have committed less emotionally challenging offences. It is here that an understanding can be developed that will support the progression to exploring values and ethics in more complex cases requiring learners to consider the supervision of individuals convicted of sexual and violent offences and other serious crimes. This transition, in itself, poses certain challenges to the inexperienced. It leads to the question of whether it is equally easy to empathise with all supervisees or, what Becker (1967) would term,subordinates. Liebling (2001) suggests that, to a great extent, ‘folk heroes’ have tended to take centre stage in debates about the rights and powerlessness of the subordinate group in research.The reality of probation practice is, nevertheless, that practitioners have to confront the challenge posed to values of working with those most vilified by society for their offences – not just the ‘folk heroes’, the positively mythologised, but the ‘demonised’ as well. Both notions need to be (p.169) challenged in order to practise in an ethically sound and accountable fashion.
A clear understanding of values is essential if practitioners are to avoid being drawn into a generalised ‘fear of the bogeyman’ (Maruna, 2001), resist the temptation of ‘othering’ (Young, 1999, 2003) and avoid ascribing a ‘master status’ of offender to those with whom they work (Whyte and Graham, 2010). It is suggested that the process of ‘othering’ impacts particularly on those with immigrant status, who are drug users or who commit serious, particularly sexual, offences (Young, 1999), and that it manifests in assumptions made about specific minority ethnic groups (Hudson and Bramhall, 2005). This reinforces the importance of an anti-discriminatory value base, as outlined by Canton (2011), as a means to guard against processes that can implicitly and unconsciously influence practice and frustrate efforts to promote change in supervisees by damaging working relationships. This is increasingly important at a time of social and organisational uncertainty. Professionals do not exist in a‘values vacuum’ and at times of wider social uncertainties, they will also be susceptible to the same influences, beliefs and values as the rest of society. The temptation to shore up the sense of self to overcome ontological insecurity (Young, 2007), to bolster the sense of ‘us’ and the sense of solidarity offered by positioning some groups as ‘the other’, can be extremely persuasive (Garland, 1990). A sound knowledge and value base that enables the practitioner to reflect on their practice decisions and the nature of professional relationships with those under supervision can operate as a safeguard against unfair discrimination and promote defendable decision-making (Kemshall, 2008).
There is a need to recognise that the lifelong learning journey requires the practitioner to step out of his or her comfort zone in order to critically interrogate personal values and reconcile these with values for professional practice. For some, this may present a considerable emotional as well as academic challenge, particularly where a mismatch or tension between personal and professional values occurs. In these situations, it is not so simple as ‘leaving your own values at the door of the office’; they need to be explored using a reflexive approach so as to identify and resolve the tension within an ethical framework for professional practice. Without this reflexivity, the practitioner may find it difficult to overcome either the fear of ‘the other’, which could promote an excessively and unfairly punitive approach to practice, or the temptation to buy into the mythologising of some types of crime, which can lead to unchallenging sympathy and collusion rather than the appropriate expression of empathy within a challenging professional relationship.
(p.170) Practitioners are experiencing considerable organisational upheaval, which is more likely to add impetus to such factors than to challenge them. It could be posited that, in addition to the ontological insecurity suggested by Young (1999) as a feature of contemporary society, the pace of organisational change in values, as well as structures, could perhaps create a climate of professional ontological insecurity, a crisis of meaning and security in purpose for the practitioner. Clearly stated professional values are one means to work through this, and provide guidance for the practitioner, encouraging insightful and informed practice.
Professional values for probation practice should centre around the moral basis for practice, with a focus on justice and decency in the way in which OMs work with supervisees, rather than representing the instrumental aims of the organisation (Canton, 2011).Values are closely associated with the actions and behaviour of professionals (Canton, 2007; Robinson, 2011; Robinson and Ugwudike, 2012). They are necessary as ‘probation officers require a clear value base to enable them to formulate intelligent and balanced judgements and make decisions in complex situations’ (Whitehead and Statham, 2006, p 167).Values constitute a set of normative beliefs (Robinson, 2011) that shape the acceptable parameters for a professional community of practice. The increasing complexity of offender management and the nature of decisions that can have considerable impact on liberty and safety need to be taken in an informed and ethical manner. OMs work with people, and, as such, professional values militate against inhumane, discriminatory and unjust practice (Nellis, 2005). While practitioners may, at times, feel somewhat powerless as ‘subordinates’ within the organisation, an understanding of core values encourages consideration of the hidden dynamics of power within the supervisory relationship. Understanding how power can influence supervision is key to working effectively, using authority appropriately, maintaining legitimacy and engaging supervisees in the aims of supervision (Raynor et al, 2010).
For decades, probation officers were perceived as being on the ‘side’ of the offender, and this may have been reflected in the individual practice of a minority of officers in the last decade. To a great extent, the legitimate function of advocacy for the disadvantaged has been interpreted as ‘taking the offenders’ side’, and the lack of legitimate responsibility for victims added to the belief in the popular imagination and that of other criminal justice organisations that probation has little (p.171) regard for victims. There is significant pressure for the probation service and OMs to demonstrate that they are ‘on the side of ’ the victim and community, and not that of ‘offenders’, almost as though these are competing and incompatible ‘sides’ (Gelsthorpe, 2007; Faulkner and Burnett, 2012). Of course, a more nuanced understanding quickly unveils the fact that victims and offenders are not mutually exclusive groups (Whitehead and Statham, 2006). Thus, rather than ‘sides’, a more helpful approach to conceptualising the approach to supervisees is a holistic one informed by humanistic values that take into account the totality of the supervisees’ experience, including experiences of victimisation (Miller and Burke, 2012).
Values are not set in stone and are subject to debate, interpretation and gradual change to accommodate the changing role of the professional. Nonetheless, it is core concepts such as respect, decency, dignity, rights, reasonableness, fairness, commitment to ADP and, arguably, the belief in the individual’s capacity to change that should be at the heart of debates about professional probation practice (see, among others, Nellis and Gelsthorpe, 2003; Nellis, 2005; Gelsthorpe, 2007; Canton, 2007, 2011). The formation of a clear professional value base for practice requires reflexive consideration of the meaning of key concepts: how they might be used; how they might inform – and be informed by – practice; and how they might contribute to the overall aims of reducing reoffending by promoting individual change, public protection and work within the wider community. Values cannot be imposed on practice; they need to grow from professional knowledge, research and debate in both the practice and academic spheres (Gelsthorpe, 2007; Canton, 2011).
Developments in professional knowledge
Developments in academic research on the process of change and the ways in which individuals travel their personal journeys on ‘the road from crime’ (Road from crime, 2012) are presenting a significant challenge to the established ‘What Works’ orthodoxy of probation practice (Porporino, 2010). Albeit at a theoretical stage at present, and with practice implementation still requiring more consideration, this growing body of knowledge indicates the value of a more positive probation practice that is strengths-based and forward-looking in supporting change and individual efforts towards desistance (McNeill et al,2010). Interventions designed on the existing cognitive behavioural theoretical premise are not being dismissed as erroneous; rather, the new research expands horizons in theorising about desistance from crime, and suggests that the Risk Need Responsivity model is not (p.172) the all-encompassing model of change once hoped for (Ward and Maruna, 2007). Elements of this previous approach are still viewed as valid interventions, but emerging research suggests that these should be used within a broader context of understanding the change process, one with a more cogent positive value base in relation to the supervisee (Ward and Maruna, 2007).
Values have always underpinned probation practice, and have been particularly pertinent to the understanding of elements of practice such as pro-social modelling and motivational interviewing (Cherry, 2010). The risk with such models and methods of intervention is that effectiveness and fairness in delivery are contingent on a sound understanding of professional values and ethical practice. The conflict between this established professional knowledge and the increasingly punitive ‘squeeze’ on professional practice creates an uneasy and complex tension for the professional trying to reconcile research-informed practice and the pressure from‘superordinate’ political powers to fulfil the demands of populist punitiveness (Bottoms, 2007) and its values, which have more to do with retribution than rehabilitation and change. Such beliefs are imbued with notions of ‘offenders’ as being somehow different to the rest of society, and inevitably support interventions with a punitive and exclusionary focus which demand that the professional distances him or herself and adopts an approach that is demonstrably not ‘taking the side of’ the supervisee (Maruna, 2001). It is as if, for practice to be accountable, there needs to be a demonstrably symbolic punitive element in supervision to prove that the OM is not colluding with the ‘offender’. What the evidence from desistance-focused research is demonstrating, however, is that more inclusive and reintegrative practice by OMs is more likely to support long-term normative change (Bottoms, 2001). It is only with a confident understanding of values that the practitioner can resist the pull of populist punitiveness and an ideological approach to practice. While these may inform organisational policy and values, professional values, in contrast, serve to maintain the integrity and professionalism of the practitioner.
Desistance scholars are developing a new approach to the consideration of professional values that explores virtue ethics as a basis for probation practice (see Chapter Nine, this volume). This approach fits well with both the concept and the sophisticated application of pro-social modelling (Cherry, 2010). They recognise the difficulty for individuals in changing their lives in a frequently hostile world, but turn their attention to the behaviour of the OM rather than the aspirations for professional practice as indicated in values statements. They indicate that (p.173) longitudinal research is clearly suggesting that a practice based on values is helpful in promoting change and that, importantly, how these values are expressed as part of the OM’s communication and relationship is significant. The relational element of supervision has the potential to be extremely powerful (Stevens, 2013); this approach, however, suggests that this can be greatly diminished if OMs do not embrace professional values and ethics into their being as well as engaging in ‘values talk’ (Lancaster, 2008).
The pressure on practitioners to navigate the complex positions within probation between punitive, managerial and rehabilitative penal discourses and values further indicates that the discourse on professional values is central to the delivery of both ethical and effective practice (Nellis, 2005; Canton, 2007; Goldhill, 2010). The pendulum can, of course, swing in the opposite direction and practitioners, enthused by the positive messages coming from research about a strengths-based approach to practice, might misinterpret research findings and believe that this signifies a return to a heavy emphasis on a Kantian value base (Lancaster, 2008) and an easing back on considerations of risk. This would be an incorrect reading of the emerging desistance research; risk is not avoided and consideration of risk is located within the theorising about change (McNeill and Weaver, 2010). The impending challenge that faces both academics and practitioners, however, is to identify appropriate practice frameworks to support the desistance process that acknowledge the importance of public protection. Open clarification of professional values can serve to counteract the ‘subterranean’ practice referred to earlier, the place where misunderstandings and misinterpretation might flourish. The resulting outcome is greater attention to an honest and openly accountable practice to all and a professional environment within which to support the developing initiatives in practice.
The changes in National Standards (NOMS, 2011a) have significantly shifted the balance from a prescribed practice to one with greater professional autonomy. While this might be anticipated to be a welcome return to the freedom of professionalism for the experienced practitioner, for many more recently qualified practitioners, this shift has been experienced as one causing significant levels of anxiety, particularly given fears of a ‘blame culture’ in human services (Kemshall, 1998; Scott, 2010; Fitzgibbon, 2011). These greater levels of discretion can remind practitioners not only of their professional responsibilities and accountabilities, but also of their vulnerabilities as workers, and may create anxieties about their existing practice knowledge and wisdom, in turn increasing a sense of powerlessness within the organisation. (p.174) It is conceivable that, unless supported by robust developmental opportunities and the encouragement of a professional values discourse, this could further any sense of professional ontological insecurity and uncertainty for both managers and practitioners – again suggesting the importance of a shared and widely discussed understanding of professional values. Reflection at this level is crucial for understanding both the ‘murky waters of practice’ (Schön, 1983) and ethically sound defendable decision-making (Kemshall, 2008). Such decision-making lies at the heart of professional practice.
Given the importance of values, why has ‘values talk’ among probation professionals diminished (Lancaster, 2008)? It can perhaps be explained in the uneasy relationship between practice and organisational and policy imperatives. OMs are employees of Probation Trusts (and may increasingly become employees within the voluntary and private sector).They are answerable to the organisation, to NOMS, to the MOJ, to the government, to the courts and to the general public, and are also accountable to the people they supervise (Canton and Eadie, 2008).
The history of the probation service has been discussed extensively elsewhere. What is of note in terms of values, however, is the changing focus as the organisation has developed. Originally guided by the tradition of ‘advise, assist and befriend’, its values primarily gave expression to the nature of the working relationship between probation officer and the offender/supervisee. The organisation was more aligned to the professional values of practitioners. From the 1990s, however, organisational values shifted in focus to encompass the more politically driven penal discourses identified by Nellis (2005) as the ‘punitive-repressive’ and ‘surveillant-managerial’, along with the more traditional probation ethos of the ‘humanistic-rehabilitative’ discourse. Nellis (2005) notes that these additional discourses inherently sideline the moral dimension of criminal justice; notions of ‘good’ relate to compliance from both staff and offenders, rather than any reference to moral or ethical ‘good’ in terms of the process of professional practice. There is no easy or comfortable ‘fit’ to allow these discourses to coexist within the probation service. As Canton (2007) points out, not only is there a degree of tension in the influence of these discourses on policy generally and in their impact on organisational values, in some cases there is complete incompatibility.
The creation of the National Probation Service in 2001 marked a conceptual shift in the interpretation of values away from concerns (p.175) with moral concepts that would inform the way in which staff worked with supervisees, towards a greater focus on pragmatic organisational concerns and priorities (Nellis and Gelsthorpe, 2003; Canton, 2007), an approach criticised by Nellis and Gelsthorpe (2003) as lacking coherence. Public protection is undoubtedly a proper aim for the modern probation service; as a core value, however, it represents an instrumental goal for policy and practice rather than a value position. Arguably,values are those beliefs and concepts that underpin the policies and practices necessary to carry out this function and the perspectives taken about focus, priorities and how they are informed by penal discourses (Kemshall, 2008).
The replacement of the National Probation Service with the broader correctional agency NOMS led to little significant change. The NOMS values statement is expressed, if anything, in broader terms of decency, respect and equality, although how these concepts are defined and operationalised is not necessarily clarified. Primacy is given to the aim of public protection, influenced by broader political and cultural concerns about risk and victims, and more specifically prompted by responses to official inquiries into serious further offences (SFOs) committed by offenders on probation supervision, making it harder to argue for values based on human rights (HMIP, 2005, 2006a, 2006b; Kemshall, 2008; Nash and Williams, 2008; Hill, 2009; O’Malley, 2010; Fitzgibbon, 2011). The fear of public approbation and political pressure has led to a shift towards a more ‘risk-averse’ approach based on a public protection model of risk management, and promoted an organisational climate where the rights of ‘offenders’ were given much less regard (Gelsthorpe, 2007; Kemshall, 2008). The contemporary penal context poses further new challenges in its more ideologically punitive and commercially driven priorities, which will inevitably create further dissonance between the values of the political superordinates and research-informed organisations and professionals. Robinson (2011) asks if a common set of values is possible across agencies involved in offender management. It could be argued, however, that the more generic values statements become in order to encompass a vast range of organisational roles, the less scope there is for developing a deep understanding of the concepts and how they might influence and be influenced by practice (Canton, 2007).
In considering the debate about ‘sides’, it is perhaps worth taking the advice of Becker (1967) and Liebling (2001) at this juncture and stepping back to view the various perspectives. Probation Trusts, the smaller regional units of organisation, are in a position of both superordinate and subordinate: subordinate to pressure from policymakers and the national structure of NOMS, and superordinate to practitioners. It could be argued that this accommodation of the two positions and the imperative to provide a values statement that encompasses the priorities and functions of both contributes to the lack of in-depth articulation of the meanings and understandings of key concepts. To attempt to fully articulate these may expose inconsistencies, tensions and unintended consequences, particularly around enforcement and public protection (Canton, 2007).
The professional practitioner, as identified earlier, is also in the position of both superordinate and subordinate: subordinate to organisational policy and the wider community, while superordinate and in a position of significant power in respect of decision-making in relation to the individuals subject to statutory orders. In the midst of the current organisational unease about the future – uncertainty that will inevitably raise concerns among staff regarding employment stability and professional progression – it would be easy for practitioners to feel overwhelmed by their subordinate status, and possibly to risk losing sight of the power that they hold. It is professional values, the core of which require a commitment to respect, rights, decency, fairness, ADP and accountability for actions, which can remind the practitioner that, despite the inward-facing concerns and tensions that they are experiencing themselves as employees/subordinates, there is a professional responsibility to maintain professional integrity and uphold values in practice.
The academic researcher, discussed by Becker (1967) and Liebling (2001), can usefully play a role in teasing out the various points of view (be they subordinate or superordinate), including those of the supervised. The academic researcher can contribute to the body of knowledge that informs practice, the importance of which is evident in both developments in Risk Need and Responsivity (RNR) and the growing influence of the desistance literature (Chapman and Hough, 1998; Trotter, 1999; Burnett and Roberts, 2004; McNeill et al, 2010; Porporino, 2010).There are inherent tensions in this process because research findings may not present an easy ‘fit’ with either penal policy or the organisational structures and processes of supervision (p.177) and expectations of results. Also, ideological pressures may cause superordinate policymakers to be less receptive to findings that may prove incongruent with their political agendas for reform (see Chapter Twenty-one, this volume). The academic can, however, undertake research and present findings that can contribute the often unheard perspectives of ex-offenders and subordinates, and give voice to their experience in making positive contributions to professional practice (Road from crime, 2012; Stevens, 2013).
There is a further role for the academic in relation to professional education. Currently, the Probation Qualifying Framework (PQF) is embedded in academic qualifications and delivered by universities in partnership with NOMS and Probation Trusts. A key change in professional education has been the shift away from the recruitment of trainees at the point of entry to the qualification. Recruitment is now from the existing probation workforce along with some graduate entrants. These changes pose a number of challenges: first, bringing new graduate entrants (for whom qualification is undertaken over an 18-month period) up to speed with the knowledge necessary to meaningfully engage in the values debate as an essential learning outcome of the qualification; and, second, facilitating a safe environment for those experienced in the service to critically explore and challenge their own existing practice wisdom, which may at times be incongruous with the ethical demands of OM practice, particularly in relation to working with risk (not only risk of serious harm and reoffending, but also issues of child protection and mental health). For many in the latter group already imbued in the more utility-based culture of learning (Millar and Burke, 2012) of the service, taking this next step in the learning journey to the critical evaluation of practice in relation to ethics and values in a more abstract domain is a significant but necessary learning challenge, and one best achieved within the safety of a learning environment.
The tension between the pragmatic needs and requirements of the organisation in terms of competent practitioners and the demands of an ethical academically informed approach to practice are many. At a theoretical level, this could be seen as the tension between the OM as professional and bureaucrat, manifesting itself in the debates about the merits of reflective professional practice and some of the difficulties and obstacles faced by academies in facilitating and teaching content on reflection and values (Goldhill, 2010). It is within the discourse on accountability and professional discretion that the academic can support the learner in developing the academic grounding and reflexive skills to (p.178) enable them to develop the knowledge that will support the confident use of professional discretion (NOMS, 2011a, 2011b).
Following Becker, Liebling (2001) identifies the need for an understanding of the power dynamic of superordinates and its nature and extent. An understanding of both the power of the organisation and the power of OMs in relation to those they supervise is crucial to practice that is underpinned by respect and principles of ADP (Canton, 2011). It is perhaps possible for the academic to step back in a similar manner to the researcher to identify the complexities of the power held by learners who themselves often feel somewhat powerless, and to encourage them to examine how this informs their practice explicitly and to reflect on the hidden dynamics of power within the supervisory relationship. This would be essential to promote the approach suggested by McNeill and Farrall (Chapter Nine, this volume). Although this learning process would not alter the dynamics of organisational power, it may contribute to the exercise of professional power in an increasingly just, fair and informed manner and promote the understanding of the relevance of professional values.
Much of this discussion has focused on ‘sides’ in respect of the relations between criminal justice organisations, professionals and supervisees. This risks falling into the inward-looking trap of discussing values in relation to the organisation and professional, and of seeing supervisees in a individualistic manner as ‘objects’ of supervision rather than individuals in the context of their broader social world (Weaver, 2012). While the concept of ‘sides’ can be a useful heuristic tool for examining the importance of values, we should not lose sight of the principles underpinning the values for professional practice. The inclusion of ex-offenders in communities that can offer positive social relational contexts to support and promote change on a long-term basis (Weaver, 2012) should be encouraged. ‘Sides’ suggests more immoveable, inflexible positions; the exclusionary potential of ‘them and us’ thinking on the part of communities and practitioners has been discussed earlier. Supervisees can also become trapped in mindsets that may prove to be a barrier to change and that support offending behaviour (Hercules, 2013). Value-based practice within a reflexive professional framework can support and challenge practitioners to overcome their own ‘them and us’ thinking. Unless practitioners can truly move beyond this polarised thinking, it is unlikely that they can successfully or ethically expect those they supervise to develop more pro-social values that might support their own integration into communities as ‘ex-offenders’ rather than as the excluded ‘other’. Of course, nothing is quite that simple and the broader role of professionals (p.179) and those concerned with supporting the desistance process is also breaking down the polarised thinking in the wider community that can pose a roadblock to individual efforts to change; perhaps a more difficult process than that of promoting individual change. Ironically, we are currently witnessing a political policy that appears to promote ‘sides’ and the ‘othering’ of ‘offenders’ in exclusionary language and punitive policies, while at the same time attempting to harness the experience and expertise of ex-offenders to support their initiatives, for example, with the ‘through the prison gate’ mentoring policy (The Telegraph, 2012; MOJ, 2013).
Such inconsistencies are likely to multiply as the contracting out of ‘probation services’ impacts on the structure and delivery of offender management. The values and ethics of the commercial marketplace will be added to the already complex relationships between the organisation, practitioner and supervisee. The voluntary sector has a much longer history of involvement with the delivery of offender management (Dominey, 2013). However, if we look at the example of voluntary drug treatment services, it could be argued that the value base of the less powerful voluntary agencies has been gradually changed and made subordinate to the superordinate position of the statutory criminal justice organisation with the power over funding and contracting (Hunt and Stevens, 2004). At present, one must be necessarily circumspect about future values for offender management at an organisational level. Putting the majority share of offender management provision out to tender could possibly see the private sector become a major provider of services, holding the superordinate power that brings with it the power to influence values, with the voluntary and state sector positioned as commercial competitors. This opens up the provision of community supervision to the broader forces of globalisation and fragmentation, which, far from promoting the localised community responses to crime and offending suggested by the Big Society policy (Flinders and Moon, 2011), distances provision from local control and inclusion in ways that are consistent with the expansion of the global power of multinational companies (Bauman, 1998).
In the midst of major upheaval, it is imperative that values are considered in the shaping of future provision. Without professional values supported by the organisations responsible for delivery, it is possible that the more punitive measures suggested by the current Home Secretary (MOJ, 2013) could be implemented with limited regard for the core values necessary for the delivery of offender management in a decent and fair manner that properly respects rights and retains legitimacy (Robinson and Ugwudike, 2012). As we have (p.180) seen earlier, fragmentation at an organisational level could make the promotion of a unifying set of values beyond vague statements lacking in conceptual definition even more difficult. It is perhaps here that the reaffirmation of professional values can serve as a unifying bond for offender management. The National Association of Probation Officers has recently published guidance for professional practice, within which there is a statement of values for professional practice (NAPO, 2012). There has also been recent consideration of an initiative to promote the development of professional registration (PCA, 2013), along the lines of the registration of social workers (BASW, 2012). If implemented, registration should be integrated with professional standards, which could and should, include a statement of professional ethics. Canton (2011) puts forward a compelling argument for the centrality of a human rights professional value base for practice as a way in which to make an understanding of probation values accessible to the wider criminal justice community and beyond and to provide a legal legitimacy to support the values of professional practice, not just with those on supervision, but with all of those to whom probation practitioners are accountable. The notion of professional values for offender management can – and could – transcend organisational boundaries and competition, and provide professional guidance for practitioners in carrying out the role of OM regardless of location. It would be naive not to recognise that this might be contested ground between the superordinate employers and subordinate groups of employees, but the legal legitimacy suggested by Canton (2011) would afford the necessary gravitas to professional concerns. Perhaps now more than ever, the probation service as we know it and the voluntary sector have a vested interest in promoting professional values and the importance of professionally trained practitioners. It may be that the threat to much that has long been held dear and valued about professional practice will galvanise all involved in offender management to reinforce and strengthen the case for the importance of professional values and ethics to guide and shape practice with individuals subject to statutory supervision.
Whitehead and Statham (2006) talk of the need to renew some sense of professional cultural identity to repair the ‘cultural fragmentation’ caused by bureaucracy. The challenge in the current penal climate will be to promote and maintain a professional cultural identity as the organisational identity is eroded and fragmented. It is perhaps time for those in the criminal justice sector to overcome the superordinate– subordinate divide between organisation and professionals that has grown as organisations have tried to bow to political superordinates (p.181) (Senior, 2007). The uniting force should be the shared sense of professional values. By galvanising the less tangible professional culture, the spirit and ethos of probation could be maintained in a way that transcends disappearing and changing organisational structures.
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