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Making Good?: A Study of How Senior Penal Policy Makers Narrate Policy Reversal

Our paper - Making Good?: A Study of How Senior Penal Policy Makers Narrate Policy Reversal - published in the leading International Journal the British Journal of Criminology draws on interviews conducted with senior national policy participants to provide a narrative reconstruction of the unification of the probation service in England and Wales.

We excavate the stories that were told about this period in probation’s history—its insourcing as a national service—by national policy participants, to themselves and others. What ideas and meanings were particularly salient for key actors? How are these narratives situated within the broader history of probation? Both its longer history, and the more proximate privatizing ‘other’ to which the unification was a response?

We show that this period was understood by many policy participants as representing their effort to ‘make good’ to probation, to rectify the harm caused by the discredited TR privatization reforms.

We argue, however, that the story of English probation’s renationalization resists simple categorization, containing elements of both heroic and tragic narratives. This is partly due to ongoing exogenous shocks that have prevented probation from settling. This is also due more fundamentally, we argue, to the ‘thought styles’ that are in play. Probation (in England and Wales) can be understood as reflecting and drawing upon an ideational history that is predominantly egalitarian in character. By contrast, the dominant approach within English government is strikingly hierarchical. We thus present an interpretive account of an attempted ‘rescue’ of probation by government actors operating within, and often holding, beliefs that contributes to a misalignment between the relevant forms of reasoning in play.