The Experiencing Offender Supervision working group is concerned with the lived experience of supervision by those subject to it and those affected by it (offenders, their families, victims and communities). The sub-themes include:

  • Offenders’ experiences of and views about the processes and impact of supervision, also compared to other sanctions (e.g. electronic monitoring, imprisonment etc.)
  • Victims’ engagement with and views about the processes and impacts of supervision
  • Family members’ (or other informal supporters of offenders) engagement with and views about the processes and impacts of supervision
  • Public, political and community engagement with and views about the processes and impacts of supervision

For more information, please email the working group coordinators:

The detailed structure of the Experiencing Supervision reports

For those of you in (or interested) in the Experiencing Supervision group, here is the structure that we agreed in Brussels for the country reports on this topic (which are due at the end of November). If you are struggling with composing your report, this might help.

Experiencing supervision

Detailed structure for the country report

When completing your country report, please pay attention to this structure. You should include empirical studies, articles, books, dissertation papers, case studies, etc, where available. Although the Cost action does not cover juveniles, you should refer to existing literature/research where it supports and informs our understanding of working with adult offenders. It is recognised that different jurisdictions will have different understandings of what is covered by the term ‘supervision’. For the purpose of this action we refer to it as ‘any control or/and assistance provided for offenders in the community under the authority of the state’.


In this section you should include a short and concise description of the supervision system in your country including the organizational structure, educational background of probation staff, the main roles and activities undertaken, judicial and governmental statistics and probation caseload statistics (2006-2011).

2. Offenders under supervision

This section should include a discussion of the demographics of the offender populations in your jurisdiction including age, gender, type of offences etc, (at least for 2011). Please provide statistics according to the sentences received (e.g. how many received community service, electronic monitoring etc.).

3. Experiencing supervision – the offender’s account

Please refer to the studies that present the experience of supervision from the offender’s point of view. Are there studies describing offender perceptions depending on the type of sentences they received (e.g. community service, electronic monitoring etc.)? if yes, please describe these studies in separate paragraphs. Also include those studies that consider the perception of offenders towards probation partners (e.g. social services, drug treatment, community service providers etc.). Please also look for observational studies that capture the experience of supervision. Special attention should be paid to: conclusions and methodology (sample, data collection instrument, data analysis, interpretation, limits). Please summarize the findings from your point of view.

4. Experiencing supervision – third parties 

Where available summarize those studies that describe reactions or perceptions of the family or other relatives or employers or neighbors on the supervision. How are they affected? How do they consider supervision? Please pay attention to conclusions and methodologies (as above) and summarize and reflect on the findings. Perceptions of probation officers regarding supervision are not necessary as these will be covered by the ‘Practicing Supervision’ Working Group.

5. Victim engagement with probation

Please provide a summary of the available studies that describe how supervision or other probation interventions (e.g. mediation etc.) are perceived by victims. As above pay special attention to conclusions and methodology.  Please summarize the findings and provide your own opinion on this category of studies.

6. Public/politicians/judiciary/media/service providers view on supervision

Please summarize the studies that discuss public attitudes/ political opinion/the role of the mass media/ and other service providers (drug treatment, social services etc.) or views of sentencers and prosecutors. Please include also their perceptions or opinions on pre-sentence reports/social inquiry reports. Special attention should be paid to conclusions and methodology. Summarize the findings and provide your own reflections on this subject as it is derived from the studies.

7. General conclusions

What is the state of art of research on experiencing supervision in your jurisdictions? What are the main findings? What are the gaps? What are the limits of the research ? provide suggestions for future research.


Please ensure that your report is referenced using the Harvard referencing system.


Here goes…

In a few hours, I head off to Brussels for the first meeting of the working groups of ‘Offender supervision in Europe’. About 40 leading scholars from around Europe (representing 19 countries) will be sharing their reviews of existing research in four key areas: experiencing supervision, practising supervision, decision-making and supervision, and European policy and practice. Needless to say, I’m intrigued to find out what these reviews of research will reveal.

Admittedly a little late, I put the finishing touches to my own review of ‘Experiencing supervision in Scotland’ about half an hour ago… I have already uploaded it to out website, so if you are interested in what 50 years of research can and can’t tell us about the experience of supervision in one small country, click on the link below…

Experiencing Supervision in Scotland

For those of you too busy to read the whole paper (it’s 5,000 words), here’s the punchline:

“Looking at the substantive findings from these studies across 50 years of offender supervision in Scotland, the main message would seem to be that the experience of supervision is a highly variable and contingent one. The meaning, substance and impact of supervision is constructed somewhere in the interplay between the offender’s characteristics, attitudes, disposition and situation, and the characteristics, attitudes, disposition and situation of the officer. But both of these key actors are themselves influenced by multiple social systems. For the offender these systems may be personal, familial, peer group related and environmental; for the officer they are personal-professional, team-related and organisational. The wider social context of penality also influences both the construction of the practice and experience of supervision (McNeill, forthcoming; Robinson, McNeill and Maruna, forthcoming). Given that the experience of supervision is nested within these various systemic and personal influences, it is perhaps no surprise that it is so contingent in its forms and so vulnerable to personal and social interactions. In consequence, the experience of supervision emerges as a dynamic and fluid one.

However, our grasp to date of these interacting influences upon supervision – and of the complexities of supervision as a lived experience – is seriously constrained by methodological limitations of three main sorts. Firstly, there is a probable selection bias in many (but not all) of the studies reviewed above, in that they often rely on self-selection of respondents and/or are affected by low response rates. There is reason to believe that the picture of supervision that they present is likely to be skewed towards those with favourable supervision experiences, who are more likely to be in contact with services, to be traced easily by researchers and to respond favourably to research access requests. Secondly, the studies reported above (Malloch and McIvor’s aside) are relatively insensitive to issues of diversity and how they impact on supervision, tending to treat offenders as a relatively homogeneous group. Thirdly, these studies rely on accounts of supervision rather than on observations of supervision. These accounts may be influenced by social desirability biases (e.g. anticipating that the researcher expects positive responses, or wishing the interview to reflect favourably on the supervisor) and perhaps by anxiety about reporting adverse experiences (i.e. where to do so might be perceived as risking negative reactions and adverse consequences from supervisors). Both limitations may tend to produce an artificially or at least unrepresentatively positive account of supervision.

By implication, a richer (and more accurate) grasp of the lived experience of supervision seems to require the development of more fully ethnographic studies of probation – studies which take diversity seriously and which are specifically prospective in nature, observing and engaging with the experience as it happens, rather than relying on retrospective accounts of it. Only such an approach seems capable of generating a properly cultural account of supervision as a lived experience in its inter-personal, social and organisational contexts.”  

After the meeting, I’m hoping we’ll be able to post a lot more about the findings of other people’s reviews, and about opur discussions.


EU Flag COST is supported by the EU Framework Programme Horizon 2020


The views expressed on this website are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of COST.