Kind of beautiful work… this probation thing: Experiencing supervision in Ireland and the Netherlands

Thanks to the diligence of Deirdre Healy (from University College Dublin) and Vera Hoetjes & Janine Plaisier (from Impact R&D in Amsterdam), we now have two more reports on experiencing supervision in the Documents and Resources section of the blog site, though you can also access them here:

Experiencing Offender Supervision in Ireland

Offender supervision in The Netherlands

For those too lazy even to follow those links (!), here are a couple of extracts, firstly from Vera and Janine’s report:

‘Literature on the experiences of (ex-) prisoners with probation and aftercare is not there for taking. The above findings are often found in a single paragraph in studies that count dozens of pages. The experiences of the probationer does not seem to be a priority, the effectiveness of sanctions in social terms (employment, housing, identification, social network) is clearly on the forefront. In their inspection reports of the different Dutch probation offices, the ISt designates the lack of evaluation that is done on the experiences of the probationer. They stress the importance of a structural policy on such evaluation, rather than the improvised evaluation that a few of the probation offices carry out after supervision.[1]

Confidence and information seem to be key words. This is consistent with literature on behavior (Van der Pligt, Koomen and van Harreveld, 2007, in: Plaisier and van Ditzhuijzen, 2009). Confidence is important because prisoners themselves often find that they could benefit from probation. But they do not experience this support as positive until they feel they can trust the organization:

When I used to go to the probation service, I drank for Dutch courage. Now I have Roel. The threshold for contact is very low and he doesn’t condemn my behavior. Even if I do things that he is doesn’t particularly support. “(Help On Ex-Detainees Shoot Deficit. Care and Welfare Magazine, # 3, March 2009.)

“The Salvation Army (the favorite probation service of minors) focuses much more on helping young people, and less on controlling them, like the Probation Service does.” (Salvation Army understands offenders,, May 2, 2012.)

Forum visitor “Kwinten Tarantino” asks other visitors on Public Internet Forum “Fok” – Topic “Probation Supervision” to advice him on whether or not he should cooperate with probation supervision:

Oh, I guess I’ll just go (to my first appointment with the probation services). Just read that they sometimes prematurely terminate probation if someone does well. I must admit that I could use some help in some areas. And a baffle like this does not sound bad … I hope the officer is someone like Charlie from Flodder. I would feel comfortable with that. And that he arranges housing for me at Zonnedael … (…)

Well, I went. A nice woman, I gotta say. It was a different woman from before. Apparently, one department makes the report and another department does surveillance. We’ve been talking about the offense and had I had to read and sign for some rules. The woman said that if I wouldn’t attend, I would get a warning and if I still would not come, then they would send it back to the judge and I’d have to go to jail. In my case that would be for 2 weeks. I’m not going to let that happen.

Kind of beautiful work, it seems to me, this probation thing. “

Information is important, because a negative experience with the probation often has its origin in poor information provision for convicts prior to the start of probation. This appeared from the process evaluation of the CoVa-2, but also from the problems with expectations on housing, that Exodus found itself confronted with.’

Deirdre’s report contains the following extract:

‘There is only limited information available about the experience of offenders on probation.  The most comprehensive study was conducted by Healy (2012a) who found that over 80% of probationers expressed positive attitudes towards probation supervision.  Furthermore, probation officers rated probationers highly on attitudes, attendance and engagement.  Probationers who were currently offending were less likely to express positive views as were probationers who perceived supervision to be oriented more towards surveillance than welfare.  Their main complaints were that probation appointments were inconvenient, that officers had too much control over their lives and that they received limited practical help (see also Durnescu, 2011 on the pains of probation). Overall, although most participants claimed that probation supervision had assisted them in resolving personal problems, few attributed desistance to their supervision experiences (see Farrall (2002) for similar findings in England and Wales). However, while probation supervision may not significantly affect behavioural outcomes, it can support personal efforts at change (Farrall, 2002; Healy, 2012a).

In a follow-up study conducted several years after the initial interviews, Healy (2012b) found that probationers largely retained their positive attitudes towards probation supervision.  In particular, they valued the practical assistance they had received from their probation officers, such as help with employment, addiction and housing.  They also positively recalled opportunities to exercise autonomy, participate in strong therapeutic relationships, and engage in meaningful rehabilitative activities during the supervision period.  However, many of the probationers began to experience personal difficulties after the supervision order ended but did not know how to access formal assistance outside the criminal justice system.  This highlights the need to develop a more effective and continuous system of formal social support that extends beyond the criminal justice system.

Finally, an in-house customer satisfaction survey conducted by the Probation Service which involved 150 probationers found that around 80% were satisfied with the quality of the service they received (Probation Service, 2011).  Although further independent research is required to confirm the results, the satisfaction ratings are in line with existing studies and are consistent with international evidence.  Typically, offenders on community service report more positive attitudes towards the criminal justice system than short-sentence prisoners (Killias et al., 2000).  Offenders on community sanctions also evidence high levels of compliance, along with significant reductions in criminal attitudes and personal problems (Rex et al., 2003).’

Interestingly, at first sight these findings are not so very different from my own, in my report on Experiencing Supervision in Scotland, though much work remains to be done in terms of comparing what we are discovering in each jurisdiction. If you want to hear the results of that work, you’ll need to book a slot at our first conference in Liverpool on 26th and 27th April… more of which to follow shortly.


[1] Inspectie voor de Sanctietoepassing, Ministerie van Veiligheid en Justitie:

Reclassering Nederland Roermond Inspectierapport – Doorlichting (2008).

Iriszorg Reclasering Inspectierapport – Doorlichting (2009).

Reclassering Nederland Regio Den Haag Inspectierapport – Doorlichting (2009).

Reclassering Nederland Unit Arnhem-Nijmegen Inspectierapport – Doorlichting (2012).

Reclassering Nederland Unit Middelburg Inspectierapport – Doorlichting (2012).

Emergis Reclassering Inspectierapport – Doorlichting (2012).


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