Book Review – The Palgrave Handbook of Global Rehabilitation in Criminal Justice

Published 26/07/2023
Type Book Review
Author(s) Chris Martin
Corresponding Authors

The Palgrave Handbook of Global Rehabilitation in Criminal Justice

Edited by Vanstone, M and Priestley, Palgrave macmillan: ISBN 978-3-031-14375-5

At the start of this thought provoking book, our Editors, Maurice Vanstone and Philip Priestley, explain to the reader that this is a book “Grounded in curiosity…[but which] does not claim to be a comparative study because each contribution is presented in its own right” (p.1). This sets the scene for a high-speed journey through the criminal justice landscapes of thirty-seven distinct geographical spaces. The authors of these contributions are also a diverse group, with academics, practitioners and officials all called upon to provide a unique insight into their own territories and cultures.  Charged with examining the state of rehabilitation in their own backyards, we get an eclectic mix of chapters, all of which I found both illuminating and fascinating.

Given that this is a journey around the world, I feel it is worth briefly pointing out that I currently lecture at Sheffield Hallam University in England, and that I have previously been a probation practitioner and manager in and around the criminal justice system in the Northwest of England.  My perspective of this book will therefore be different to those of other readers from other backgrounds and areas. Parts of this book that resonated closely with me will therefore be of less interest to others, but I do think that a variety of perspectives enhances the appeal of a work such as this.

Our Editors have chosen to structure this book alphabetically (by country or state), to consciously avoid any perception of hierarchy around the chapters.  Having read the chapters in this order, this further adds to the feel that each is truly a contribution in its own right. The reader also has the joy of navigating both the broad sweep of a country’s culture, as well as the intimate portrayal of a person’s journey. For instance, in the chapter focussed on India (by Halder), we are introduced to the concept of “Danda Niti” from the Hindu epic “Ramayama” as an explanation for the concept of penology. Meanwhile, in the chapter relating to Mexico (by Giocomello) we are shown the cases of Maria and her daughter Gaudalupe, who struggled to effectively navigate the rehabilitative “support” in their country.

Whilst our Editors ask us not to use this as a comparative text, it is certainly true that themes emerge. The dominance of the Risk, Need and Responsivity model (termed as a “global mega trend” by Lappi-Sepällä in their chapter on Finland) in rehabilitative systems around the world is one. The continuing poor state of prisons in a number of jurisdictions, mainly the fault of overcrowding is another. Chapter after chapter point to bureaucratic failings in the introduction of rehabilitative paradigms, either due to political decision making or a lack of willingness to fully finance a genuine rehabilitative model.  Our Editors acknowledge the prevailing political narrative of punitiveness throughout the world, but it is still a surprise to see it writ large in so many areas, including within the “exceptional” Scandinavian nation of Sweden.

I enjoyed this book most, however, when the authors strayed from the well-trodden paths and provided insight into rehabilitation efforts that were either unique to their areas or formed from within their cultures. As such, reading about the Fijian notions (in the chapter by Whitehead and Chang) of “vanna” (connectedness) and “bulubulu” (a reconciliation ceremony) and how these are integrated into the rehabilitation project was fascinating. Likewise, the Thai system (in the chapter by Chitsawang and Netrabukkana) incorporating meditation-based programmes as the prevalent practice in their efforts – and having the evidence base to support its efficacy was an enjoyable perspective.

Whilst it is important to discuss any work for what is there, rather than what is not, I do note the chapter on Tunisia (by Pottier) as an outlier here – providing a North African perspective which strongly references the “Arab Spring” of 2011.  Further exploration of this part of the world, including the Middle East, as well as the wider Islamic world, I feel would have broadened the perspective of this book further.  Likewise, the speed at which authors are required to address areas, often leads to chapters feeling like more questions are raised than answers provided.  All chapters are incredibly well referenced, but an opportunity to point the reader to further relevant material would have been gratefully received.

As such, I think this book lends itself to those with an interest in rehabilitative work in the rest of the world, as well as those of us who are interested in wider comparisons in the field of criminology.  It can certainly be read as a “reference” book, to be dipped in and out of, or as a work to support international comparison. Each chapter acts as an opening to the efforts of that place – and the unique viewpoints and perspectives should also appeal to those policy makers and thinkers who are looking to expand the horizons of what is possible and achievable in a rehabilitative context.

Overall, I found this book to be inspirational – and a constant reminder of the brilliant work that is attempted in the world of a rehabilitative ideal, often in the face of adverse conditions.  To me, it read as a call to those of us who believe in this ideal, to keep working with these aims in mind, whatever our field. The rise of punitive populism (in my mind the recent political “spat” between political parties in the United Kingdom, relating to who is “tougher” on crime comes to mind) means that this is a constant challenge. Whether it is the repeated call for more research to bolster the evidence base (the acknowledgement of neoliberal policy making echo throughout this book), or whether as a challenge to systemic blockages (Herzog-Evans chapter provides a passionate rebuke to the French government), this book repeats the necessity for ongoing action in this area.

A fascinating book, well worth reading in full, or dipping in and out of.  It certainly fulfils our Editors’ notion of a book “grounded in curiosity”.  It satisfies some of that curiosity, but certainly leaves the reader wanting to find out more.