Maps and Territories: WG3 Practising offender supervision

This blog post comes from Nicola Carr of Queen’s University Belfast, a member of the working group on practising supervision.

The ‘practice’ of offender supervision in Europe is diverse and is profoundly shaped by its political, cultural, administrative and professional contexts.  Work to date, such as Kalmhout and Durnescu’s (2008) Probation in Europe and the CEP’s Domice project, which maps the case management of adults across jurisdictional correctional systems, provide rich contextual information and can be considered as ‘maps of the territory’. The focus of the Practising Offender Supervision Working Group, whose first task is collating an overview of empirical research on aspects of practice from each country, is aiming towards a more finely drawn cartography of this territory.

At the first meeting of the working group in Brussels in October 2012, members presented overviews of research from their jurisdictions grouped around the following broad themes:

  • The roles, characteristics, recruitment and training of key actors in the delivery of offender supervision;
  • Interactions and relationships between key actors in the delivery of offender supervision and other relevant professionals;
  • The delivery/practice/performance of offender supervision;
  • The role of tools and technologies in the delivery of offender supervision;
  • The management, supervision and/or regulation of practitioners and their practice.

Unsurprisingly, the extent and nature of research that has been done to date varies widely across Europe and reflects broader issues such as the history of service provision and the scholarship tradition in this area. For example, there are differences between countries with newly formed probation services and those that are decades old.  Defining the ‘field’ of research can also be complex particularly given the range of actors that may be involved in the practice of offender supervision.

Some noteworthy themes from the literature gathered to date include the fact that research tends to focus on discrete aspects of practice such as report-writing or assessment practices and less on the day-to-day process of supervision. Relatedly, research (certainly in the UK context) has mostly tended to focus on practitioners’ own accounts of their practice in the form of interviews and/or questionnaires and less on actual practice, e.g. through ethnographic or observational research. Reasons for the predominance of certain research methods can be posited. For one, ethnographic or observational-type approaches are much more resource intensive than interview or questionnaire-based methodologies.  The question of whether research is funded and by whom also frames the subject of inquiry.

It is also interesting to note also that while much attention is paid in policy terms to inter-agency working, there is limited research exploring the relationships and work between actors and agencies in this sphere.  The broader questions of the research context and environment are important considerations and the discussion of the working group  has helped to draw out some of these themes.

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