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Project Blog

4th October 2022

Project Update

As the project enters its tenth month, we are nearing the end of our first sweep of research activity across a series of our work streams. We have spent time to reflect upon and consolidate the learning that has been generated through our interview-based research activity since we started fieldwork in March and we are now embarking on a series of dissemination events. We have interviewed 60 probation practitioners in our first sweep of activity in our local-level case study area - engaging staff at all levels of the organisation. In order to ensure we are representative of the region, we have interviewed staff from offices operating in urban and rural locations. We have also interviewed probation staff who have remained in the same offices or who have been relocated to newly established teams to fully capture the wide range of practitioner experiences. At regional and national levels, we have interviewed all Regional Directors of Probation in a first sweep of interview activity and have engaged 20 national policymakers who hold, or have recently held, roles within the Ministry of Justice, HMPPS, spanning both policy and operational roles.


In the first phase of research activity our focus has been on the implementation and experience of the unification of probation services since June 2021 and in  the months that have followed. We will, shortly, run a series of practitioner engagement events to reach out and report back into our case study area to share the key emergent themes from our fieldwork. These events will provide valuable opportunities for staff to listen to the voices of their peers, share their own perspectives, facilitate engagement between the research team and practitioners. Our fieldwork activity and the insights we will capture through the engagement events will help us frame research briefing reports enabling us to communicate timely insights into the delivery of reform and of the challenges experienced by staff. 

Ahead of these events we will also present thematic insights from our local level case study and the data generated though our interviews with Regional Directors at an in-person workshop for Regional Directors of Probation in Nottingham in October. The presentations of our research and discussions that follow will allow us to explore how consistent, contrasting and/or contradictory the experiences of our case study region are with other areas and to reflect critically on the challenges for Regional Probation leaders involved in organisational reform.

These dissemination events are an important opportunity to feedback to research participants, which is a commitment we made as part of the project.  Following these events we will be starting to publish some initial research findings in due course…watch this space…

Matthew Millings 


1st July 2022

Can Probation be Rehabilitated?

Scheduled in June 2022, the 24th annual Bill McWilliams lecture coincided with the first anniversary of probation unification, so as the invited lecturer I took the opportunity to offer some reflections on the present by posing the provocative question: ‘Can probation be rehabilitated?’ The lecture took as its starting point the now uncontested view that the probation, broadly conceived, has sustained damage as a consequence of the 2014 Transforming Rehabilitation reforms, but whilst much has been said and written about the quantitative aspects of that damage (e.g. the economic costs and failure to deliver ‘results’), little attention has been paid to the less tangible effects of the splitting of the service, which was experienced by many as organisational trauma. The lecture was structured by a consideration of three different ways of understanding rehabilitation: firstly, as a return to some former (more desirable) state; secondly, as a process of improvement or ‘building back better’; and, thirdly, as a state that is only achieved when important others recognise and acknowledge that positive change has been accomplished. The lecture thus took a concept that is in may ways the ‘bread and butter’ of probation work, and deployed it as a critical lens through which to think about the possible futures for the unified service.

Gwen Robinson

You can listen to the Bill McWilliams Memorial Lecture delivered by Professor Gwen Robinson here:

21st June 2022

Our latest meeting of the project team took place in Liverpool in late June. The team is progressing well on the first set of interviews being conducted across the different ‘levels’ of the project, which includes exploring the experiences of probation practitioners, regional leaders (“Regional Probation Directors” or RPDs), national policy makers and other stakeholders. (We will also be exploring the experiences of those subject to probation supervision, in due course). It is always an exciting and generative experience when we gather: an opportunity to consider and debate the lessons that might already be emerging, only six months into our three-year project. Our respondents’ insights interplay with one another, in our reflections on them; as do the differing theoretical and conceptual perspectives that we each bring to the project. It is also an opportunity to move forwards our ideas for engagement with publics, with stakeholders and through scholarship; and to think of new ones! Watch this space…