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Whose confidence? Regional leaders’ perspectives on building confidence in a reconfigured probation service.

Our paper – Whose confidence? Regional leaders’ perspectives on building confidence in a reconfigured probation service – published in Criminology & Criminal Justice draws on interviews conducted with Regional Probation Directors (RPDs) in England and Wales to focus on the question of whose confidence matters and what are the challenges when building confidence from the perspective of those leaders. The interviews took place in the Spring of 2022, a little over 12-months on from the unification of probation services in June 2021.

The idea that institutions of criminal justice should command the confidence of the public and other stakeholders is taken for granted ‘good’, but one which has rarely been considered from the perspectives of operational leaders within those institutions. Also, little is known about what happens at times of crisis, when claims are made about the erosion of confidence and leaders are charged with rebuilding it. This research draws on empirical research with the 12 leaders of the recently unified Probation Service in England and Wales.

Without exception, these leaders acknowledged a need to (re)build confidence in probation in the wake of the failed Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, which have left probation severely weakened. Three domains emerged as of primary importance for the RPDs each requiring confidence-building work on their part, with the support of their leadership teams. The first domain encompassing sentencers and other key partner agencies, can be conceptualised as a set of horizontal relationships across the organisational field. This domain reflects not just the contemporary policy emphasis on judicial confidence but also probation’s long history of providing information and advice to the criminal courts, and of working with a range of other agencies. The second domain is represented as a set of vertical relationships with ministers but mediated by influential senior leaders within HMPPS. RDPs were very aware of the power wielded by ministers to ‘command and control’ probation, and thus the need to earn their confidence. The third domain was internal to the new service and centred on the confidence of their own staff. This domain of ‘internal confidence’ has not featured heavily in political or policy discourse but it was a prominent and real concern for RPDs. In this domain they viewed their role as shielding or protecting individuals and offering reassurance, positive reinforcement and hope for the future.     

The article provides a particular – and rarely heard - perspective from organisational leaders on the confidence-building agenda in a field of criminal justice and their voices provide insight into the messy reality of leading a new probation service out of a period of crisis.