Recent Developments in Probation Practice: the Impact of Risk Analysis
The aim of my research has been to explore, in the area of probation, the influence of the shift away from traditional social work values towards an emphasis on punishment, enforcement and the management of risk. In particular my focus has been on how this shift has influenced the methods by which practitioners undertake their role, with an increasing focus on risk assessment removing them from the principles engendered within their professional disciplines and further away from an empathetic and meaningful relationship with their clients. I examine the consequences of this shift through the ways in which criminal justice legislation, policy and practice have developed and impacted upon particular categories of offenders. The theoretical orientation of my work involves a dual focus on the deconstruction of the client and the practitioner. The former is redefined from welfare citizen to carrier of risk and criminogenic needs, while the latter is fragmented and deskilled into an operator of routine risk assessment and prediction techniques. I argue that an important outcome of these procedures is the deployment of a concept of 'pre-emptive criminalisation'. My research work, which is the basis of this submission, comprised three components: a comparative study of three mental health White Papers, a research study of the working of OASys (the Offender Assessment System) and a study of the effectiveness of risk assessment in the parole process. The research techniques involved mainly the reading of policy documents and the content analysis of OASys reports. My findings, detailed in my various publications, include an argument that the effectiveness of risk predictions involve precisely the type of high level practitioner skills now being undermined by deskilling and also illustrate the role of such risk predictors in the pre-emptive criminalisation of clients. The thesis concludes with an acknowledgement of the limitations of the type of research I have conducted and suggestions for directions in which it might be further developed.