ESRC LogoDevolving Probation Services: An ethnographic study of the implementation of the 'Transforming Rehabilitation' agenda

Project start date: March 2014

Funding awarded by the ESRC

Project funding

Dr Gwen Robinson's project on 'Devolving Probation Services: An ethnographic study of the implementation of the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda', to be conducted jointly with researchers at Liverpool John Moores University, has been supported under the ESRC's pilot Urgency Grants Mechanism, which enables researchers to follow through an opportunity that would be lost if the application went through the usual ESRC process.  This project will track the changes resulting from devolution of probation services, a development which was announced by the government in autumn 2013 for implementation in spring 2014.   The usual time spent developing a research proposal, waiting for a decision and then managing the project start-up would have made it impossible to track these changes from before they came into force, which the urgency mechanism has meant the project is now able to do.

Project outline

The Probation Service in England & Wales is a public body which plays a key role in the criminal justice system. The Service is more than 100 years old and is responsible for supervising offenders subject to community-based sentences as well as large numbers of offenders who are subject to mandatory supervision at the end of a prison sentence. Currently the Probation Service supervises approximately 220,000 offenders in the community and employs more than 16,000 staff. In 2013 the Ministry of Justice announced plans to implement a policy which will see approximately 70% of the work carried out by the public Probation Service being outsourced to other providers, including private sector companies.

The first stage in the process involves the creation of 21 'Community Rehabilitation Companies' (from 1 June 2014) which will be owned by the Ministry of Justice for a period of several months, prior to being offered for sale to a variety of potential providers, including private companies. This project will examine this significant development in one part of the country, providing a case study of the 'devolution' of the majority of probation services. It will look in detail, in one metropolitan area, at the process and implications of moving the bulk of probation work (and staff) from the public Probation Service to a Community Rehabilitation Company with an uncertain future. The project will seek to understand this process from a variety of perspectives, including those of senior managers involved in running the Company and probation workers engaged in supervising offenders. The researchers will attend and observe management meetings, collect and analyse policy documents and conduct interviews with staff at all levels within the organisation. The research will provide a detailed picture of a significant development in the criminal justice system and, more broadly, the process of 'outsourcing' a public service.