Briefing Papers now available!
I’m pleased to say that all four of our working groups has succeeded in producing (on time!) a short briefing paper summarising their learning from the first year of the Action’s activities. These short papers summarise what was presented at our conference in April by the working group leaders and give a taster for the more detailed analysis you can expect in our book on ‘Offender Supervision in Europe’ which is due to be published by Palgrave in December 2013.
It’s hard to summarise all of this learning in a few sentences (especially when I want you to read the briefings!), but what is most striking perhaps is how much we just don’t know about offender supervision. Whether we look to questions about how supervision is experienced by those subject to it, how decisions about it are made by those in authority, how it is constructed in practice by those charged with doing it, or how it is influenced by European norms and standards, we find the same problem: large gaps in the empirical literature conducted to date on the topic. Comparing offender supervision with imprisonment as a sanction, our survey reveals the relative paucity of social scientific contributions to the sorts of critical analysis that lies behind improvements in policy, practice and performance.
But it’s not just that we haven’t studied supervision enough; it’s that even when we have, we haven’t done so well enough. Again looking across the groups, we face issues with the scale and representativeness of the research and with the adequacy of the methods deployed. Very often, it seems, we rely too much on accounts of supervision or decision-making elicited from interviews; there are very few supervision ethnographies of the sort that can dig beneath the story or the surface.
Intriguingly, we also find that a great many probation researchers are former probation workers. In many respects this can be helpful; it may enable access and help to establish a sympathetic understanding of the sorts of challenges and pressures that practitioners face. But, on the other hand, it raises interesting questions about possible bias, or at least about critical distance. Given the wider politics of punishment — and the perennial pressure to promote supervision as an alternative to incarceration — might this explain why the ‘pains of probation’ have been so under-examined?
Clearly, we have a lot to learn, and a lot of work to do. At least we have succeeded in confirming the case for establishing the Action: this work is critically important to the future of criminal justice in Europe and it has been neglected for too long.
You can read the briefings here:
On ‘Experiencing Supervision’: WG1 Briefing 2013
On ‘Decision-making and Supervision’: WG2 Briefing 2013
On ‘Practising Supervision’:WG3 Briefing 2013
On ‘European Norms, Policy and Practice’: WG4 Briefing 2013