Book Reviews (14.1)

Published 15/03/2016
Type Review
Author(s) Jake Phillips, Anne Robinson
Corresponding Authors

Jill Annison, Jo Brayford & John Deering (eds.) (2015). Bristol: Policy Press. pp265 (pbk) £24.99. ISBN 978-1-4473-1931-3

A comprehensive critique of policy and practice surrounding women in the criminal justice system since 2007, this edited book raises timely and pertinent questions about the immediate future of gender responsivity and justice. With a clear focus on policy, and how that policy is translated into practice, it is ideal for those who are looking for an understanding of the wider issues around the recent responses to female lawbreakers in Great Britain. As such, it will be particularly invaluable to service providers and campaigners aiming to navigate the current uncertainty that surrounds provision for women within the criminal justice system. However, it also offers a useful and accessible summary of recent research and practice with women for the academic or student beginning their studies in the area.

The tight focus on policy, and in particular the impact of the Corston Report (2007) and the emerging influence of the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda (MoJ, 2014), is maintained by all the authors throughout the collection. The first part introduces these policy developments, highlighting the most pertinent aspects of Transforming Rehabilitation – namely Payment by Results, statutory supervision for short-term prisoners and Community Rehabilitation Companies – which could most affect women in the criminal justice system. These innovations are critiqued throughout the book, from both theoretical and practical perspectives, leaving the reader in no doubt that their likely influence on criminalised women is, at best, unfortunate. What follows is a comprehensive exploration of what is known about female lawbreakers in England, Wales and Scotland, with a balanced appreciation from several leading academics of the not insignificant progress made since the Corston Review. Nevertheless, despite the evidence presented about female offending and desistance, the authors are clear that there is much work to do in improving the state’s provision for women who break the law, whilst also questioning whether the criminal justice system is the best vehicle through which to do this.

The second part of the book focuses on specific programmes and interventions which aim to address the need outlined in preceding chapters for suitable provision. Perspectives from probation, youth justice, women’s centres, groups for older prisoners, mentoring and therapeutic communities are all used to evaluate recent policy, largely based on small-scale primary research. Although the specific challenges and foci of this provision vary significantly, there is no doubt that the Corston Report enabled and encouraged better provision for women through practices such as those explored here- although in many cases a fuller implementation of those recommendations would have seen even more improvement. In particular, the need for holistic and relational provision, for women by women, under central oversight, as promoted by Corston, was widely valued. While discussion of the impact of Transforming Rehabilitation varies by chapter, the uncertainties for staff and service users brought by Payment by Results and Community
Rehabilitation Companies (where funding is short-term and localised, leading to high staff turnover and broken relationships, particularly in small-scale projects) are frequently cited as undermining these aims.

The final part of the book questions some of the assumptions at play throughout the other chapters, asking the reader to reconsider whether differential treatment is necessary for women or whether improved sensitivity in sentencing would also benefit male prisoners who share some of women’s particular needs, such as those who are primary carers for children. This focus on sentencing is repeated through a more thorough examination of short prison sentences under Transforming Rehabilitation, highlighting the crucial role of sentencers if women are to be properly provided for in the criminal justice system. Finally, an interesting empirical study on the role of the media in penal reform is introduced, clarifying the practical challenges in achieving change for criminalised women.

Overall, while the Corston Report ushered in some significant developments in appropriately providing for female lawbreakers, the reader is left with a sinking feeling that Transforming Rehabilitation has gone some way to undoing that work. Without the coordinated, integrated approach recommended in 2007, the small-scale projects that are shown in this volume to be responding in evidence-based and holistic ways to women are left particularly vulnerable in the new funding arrangements that focus on costeffectiveness. This presents some challenge to academics and practitioners to produce
more accurate and useful measures of effectiveness for funding providers that reflect some of the holistic work already happening with criminalised women. Excepting in Scotland (Scottish Government, 2015), the refusal to change the nature of the female prison estate in the UK has hampered the ability to create appropriate provision and has possibly increased the sentencing of women to prison. While this book consistently looks
for practical solutions to these problems, unless media relations can be improved, there seems to be little hope of tangible improvements to how women are treated in the criminal justice system under the current punitive political climate.

Sarah Goodwin, Lecturer in Law and Criminology, Sheffield Hallam University

Corston, J. (2007) The Corston Report: A Report by Baroness Jean Corston of a Review of Women with Particular Vulnerabilities in the Criminal Justice System. London: Home Office.
MoJ (2014) Transforming Rehabilitation. London.
Scottish Government (2015) News Release: Plans for Female Prison in Inverclyde will not go ahead. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.

PRIVATISING PROBATION: IS TRANSFORMING REHABILITATION THE END OF THE PROBATION IDEAL?John Deering & Martina Y. Feilzer (2015). Bristol: Policy Press. pp149 (pbk) £9.99. ISBN 978-1-4473-2728-8

This short book is timely, useful and important. Deering and Feilzer seized a moment to find out if the Coalition-imposed (but New Labour-gestated) Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) changes were indeed being perceived and experienced by probation staff, as suspected, as undermining the traditional professional ideals and public service ethos of the Probation Service. To this end, they conducted an online survey of 1300 probation service employees in April and March 2014, on the cusp of the transition into the new world of National Probation Service (NPS) and Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs), which formally occurred in June 2014. 94.4% of respondents were contacted via Napo, 5.6% via Probation Trusts. It was a sad sign of the times that some Trust managers, presumably fearful of their own futures in the upcoming dispensation, had refused to circulate the questionnaire (replicated here in an appendix) because of its overtly “political” nature. The overall number of self–selecting respondents was gratifyingly greater than Deering and Feilzer had expected, and the findings extrapolate consistently on the fears, anxieties and survival strategies unearthed in earlier studies of the anticipated, unwarranted upheaval in probation officer’s lives.

The analysis begins with respondents views on the operational coherence and strength of probation’s humanistic values and finds ironic discrepancies between probation officers and probation service officers on the one hand, and probation managers on the other, the latter’s perspective augmented by data from an earlier study. The managers (some interviewed in a separate study) articulated a stronger sense of enduring and sustainable values but wanted them expressed in more creative and flexible forms of supervision, and didn’t necessarily see privatised service delivery as an obstacle to this. The frontline workers felt that managers had, over time, betrayed the old values and had long been demanding working practices which it was impossible to infuse with the old notional values. Privatisation, and the accompanying monetising of success and failure in reducing reoffending, is thought certain to undermine humanistic values further. Deering and Feilzer give an indulgently easy ride to staff who hold naïve, unsophisticated and narrowly individualistic views of probation values. “Gone are the days of advise, assist and befriend”, one officer wrote wistfully, as if this were interesting news in 2014, and as if a deep personal commitment to custody-reducing strategies – an abolitionist heart if not an abolitionist voice – was not equally and more relevantly humanistic. But the broad point about where TR has taken us to is well and fairly made, and even theorised a little at the end using Bourdieu’s work on field and habitus: no matter what professional values officers espoused the government would not allow probation to survive in full as a public service. The survey brings out how stressed and unfulfilled many probation officers have felt for a long time, how they have become disillusioned with an organisation (no longer a nationally unified “service”) in which they once took great professional pride and reasonably expected to have lifelong careers. There is more to be said, perhaps, in another research project, about the way in which accumulated, government-induced stress in the lives of so many staff, at all levels, depleted the service’s professional energies and propelled its nostalgic, defensive retreat into outdated habits of mind at a time when these were manifestly inadequate as resources for political survival in the 21st century.

Every word of this book is worth reading, but it won’t register in the same way with all audiences. If it circulates, as practice research should, among the probation staff who completed the survey, it cannot but confirm and deepen their sense of loss, frustration and impending doom, because Deering and Feilzer can rightly see no source of effective political or professional resistance to what is coming. By the same token, if the book circulates among the service’s new commercial masters and the civil servants in the Ministry of Justice who dreamed up TR it will confirm for them that probation staff were indeed professionally myopic in their limited understanding of what reducing re-offending could mean, nostalgically fixated on public service and stroppily disinclined to “get with the programme” of marketisation. The new commercial masters will likely gain confidence from knowing that so many staff are so stressed and disillusioned that they are increasingly thinking of leaving the (non)service and this information may even help with their next round of workforce planning. If the point of TR has been to expunge almost all things recognisably probation (except the name of the NPS, for now) from the face of the Anglo-Welsh criminal justice system, and to obliterate a once respected and distinctively skilled occupation, the research in this book yields clear evidence that the government is winning. Unlike some commentators on these issues, Deering and Feilzer don’t interpret evidence of probation staff resentment and resistance to TR as signs of a sassy rearguard action that will hold the fort for “real probation” until government wises up – least of all on the basis of yet more “what works” evidence! – and ruefully resuscitates the old ideal. There ain’t no cavalry coming.

Methodologically and epistemologically, Privatising Probation embodies a dilemma that will bedevil all indigenous probation researchers – at least those focussed on policy – from here on in. In what “tone” should one engage, write and argue about the unfolding of TR? Does one, like the separately interviewed sample of probation managers, make light of the politico-organisational changes (“won’t be so bad, deal with the stress, things will settle down”) in order to stay in the game and keep one’s career? Or does one, in view of accumulating evidence of harm done to hard-working professionals, and out of loyalty to an old ideal, denounce the changes as gratuitous political vandalism, intended to ruin a viable and effective public service simply because its very existence did not accord with the precepts of neoliberalism and which was visibly more vulnerable to demolition than, say, the NHS, because the public cared less about it? Deering and Feilzer err honestly towards the latter and keep few options open: yes, they say, TR is likely to undermine the probation ideal. Certainly it is unlikely that five years from now they will get a chance to undertake a follow-up survey – remember the Trusts’ reluctance to collaborate with this one? – because the NPS/CRCs capacity to control the narrative of what staff do and how they feel about it – will be stronger than it is now, less open to independent scrutiny. And there will be fewer staff to ask, less well paid, and probably not unionised.

Mike Nellis, Emeritus Professor of Criminal and Community Justice, University of Strathclyde

DELIVERING REHABILITATION: THE POLITICS, GOVERNANCE AND CONTROL OF PROBATIONLol Burke & Steve Collett. Abingdon: Routledge. pp200 (pbk). £26.99. ISBN 9780415540384

This excellent and timely book by Burke and Collett explores the recent history of probation from an explicitly political perspective. Building upon books and other probation related research that have been published in recent years, the authors state that their position is ‘critical of post-modernity and the hegemonic nature of neoliberalism’ which has been accepted by politicians on the both the left and right of the political spectrum. It is an important book in terms of laying out the broad political and ideological underpinnings of the recent Transforming Rehabilitation (TR) agenda and thus helps us understand why such reforms occurred, as well as sheds light on how they may play out.

Following a brief introduction, Chapter 2 covers ground which will be familiar to many readers of the journal; essentially asking the question: ‘what is rehabilitation in definitional and practical terms?’ The authors conclude the chapter with the argument that rehabilitation is ‘about helping individuals to go straight and get sorted’. On the one hand, such a simplistic conclusion does a disservice to the complex debates covered in the chapter because it fails to capture the tensions that are inherent to a criminal justice system which has to deliver both rehabilitation and punishment. On the other hand, it sets the authors up nicely for the next chapter in which they unpick the different ways in which the management and governance of probation has constrained its ability to do just that.

In Chapter 3, the authors start from the argument that ‘the political process has become adept, certainly, in the crime arena, of using criminal justice events to serve wider political needs and feed the longer-term fortunes of the political parties’ (p.28) and use several ‘events’ to explore how and why the governance has changed so significantly over the last forty years culminating in the privatisation of probation through TR. Chapter 4 offers an overview and critique of what we know about how the probation service delivers rehabilitation, primarily through the lens of occupational culture and professional identity. Despite these concepts being underdeveloped, or at least under operationalised, there has been sufficient research in recent years to allow for an analysis which is sorely needed. As the authors rightly argue, any consideration of changes in policy is only half fulfilled if we fail to take the working practices and values of probation practitioners themselves into account. It is in this chapter that the authors start to develop their own, unique, critique of the transforming rehabilitation agenda based on the argument that what we know about effective probation practice are inconsistent with many of the values of the private sector.

Chapter 5 deals explicitly with the process of marketisation. The chapter begins with a brief but cogent overview of the rationale and process of privatisation in the 1980s under Thatcher and New Labour’s market-based strategies of PFI and contestability. The questions that are raised towards the end of this chapter represent the most interesting ones and will undoubtedly form the basis for future research on the effects of the TR reforms. In asking whether it matters who delivers rehabilitation; whether private providers work for the public or private good; whether they are likely to work; and whether it is a good idea to pay less for such important services, the authors investigate the ways in which the Coalition Government’s actions can be considered against moral, instrumental, ideological and pragmatic benchmarks which are inherent to the authors’ definition of rehabilitation. That said, their message is clear:

‘We are clear that in terms of efficacy and governance, the argument for the wholesale privatisation of correctional services in general and the rehabilitative endeavour in particular cannot be sustained.’ (p.120)

Chapter 6 traces the changing relationship between statutory (and now private) probation providers, the voluntary sector and civil society. In doing so, they argue that the rehabilitative endeavour referred to in the previous chapter has widened. As part of this discussion the authors consider the way in which these relationships, which actually have a long history in probation, have been integrated or fragmented by the more formal approaches taken by successive governments and consider IOM, MAPPA and TR as part of this process of change. In Chapter 7 Burke and Collett consider the way in which probation is both complicit with and holds the potential to counter neoliberalism’s ‘malign influence’. In doing so they consider the way in which different sections of the population are disproportionately affected by penal sanctions, poverty and so on and come to the conclusion that the neoliberal ideology has seeped in to the delivery of rehabilitation in such a way that those who fail are seen to be at fault. In the final chapter the authors take the opportunity to restate their message that TR will fail. I must admit to being left with a sense that I had just, slightly unwittingly, read a polemic. To make such a strong prediction is a risky stDr Jake Phillips, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Sheffield Hallam Universityrategy. If it turns out to be inaccurate, the preceding well-made arguments (around the efficacy, fairness, and complexity of the reforms more generally) risk being undermined by the failure of the headline message.

Although this book is clearly going to be of most interest to scholars and academics interested in probation policy, polity and practice there is sufficient depth for it to be of wider interest, especially to those who have an interest in similar services (such as welfare and social work). Neoliberalism has had a similar impact on services which were previously considered to be sacrosanct pillars of the state. Indeed, the book touches on income inequality, the riots in London 2011, benefit sanctions, welfare reforms, and rail privatisation/nationalisation, and will thus potentially be useful for anyone with a broader interest in how neoliberalism has affected the way in which public services are now governed.