A legitimate business? Representations of privatised probation
The Transforming Rehabilitation reforms implemented in England & Wales in 2014 witnessed the transfer of responsibility for a large proportion of the work of the public sector probation service to 21 newly created Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs), which were contracted out to a range of providers dominated by private sector interests.
This part-privatisation of probation services has raised important questions about the legitimacy of the new organisations in the eyes of both internal and external audiences, and about the ‘legitimation work’ that the CRCs might engage in to address any legitimacy deficits they themselves perceive. This article presents the findings of an analysis of the websites of all 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies, and considers what these externally-facing representations of the CRCs suggest about legitimation work in the private probation sector. Our analysis suggests that CRCs use some of the same strategies of legitimation that have been found in another ‘tainted trade’ - the private security industry – and are similarly ambivalent about what – and to whom – they are marketing their ‘business’. We suggest that our analysis sheds new light on old questions about how the somewhat intangible goods of probation work can be captured and communicated to a mixed constituency of potential stakeholders, as well as raising new questions about the role of websites (and other marketing materials) in that endeavour.