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The role of stories in penal policy change

Bringing policy reform to fruition is an enterprise fraught with difficulty; penal policy is no different.

This paper argues that the concept of ‘storylines’, developed within policy studies, is capable of generating valuable insights into the internal dynamics of penal policy change and particularly the ‘commmunicative miracle’ whereby policy participants sufficiently align to achieve reform.

I utilize the part-privatization and part-marketization of probation services in England and Wales (‘Transforming Rehabilitation’) as a pertinent case study: a policy disaster foretold, but nonetheless inaugurated at breakneck speed. Drawing on interviews with policy makers, I demonstrate the means by which the ‘rehabilitation revolution’ storyline resolved (at least temporarily) the tensions and problems inherent in the reform project; without which it would have struggled to succeed. We see that storylines play at least three important roles for policy makers: they enable specific policies to ‘make sense’, to ‘fit’ in line with their pre-existing beliefs. They provide a sense of meaning, moral mission and self-legitimacy. And they deflect contestation. In closing, I consider the implications for scholars of penal policy change.

Annison, H. (2022) 'The role of storylines in penal policy change.' Punishment & Society, 24,3:387-409.