At various times the question has been put to me 'does probation work?' It's no good giving a trite 'yes' because that will just beg the next question 'how do you know?' A trite 'no' on the other hand would be so depressing as to mean turning up for work each day would be impossible, well for me anyway.
It's an important question, never more so than at the present time with the whole future of the Probation Service at stake. It's not helped by the fact that politicians only seem capable of dealing with issues in black and white terms. I think it's plainly obvious that the answer lies somewhere between the two and that's what I've always tried to explain. It will depend on each individuals circumstances and whether they are ready for change and receptive to help and advice.
As with all short questions, it's deceptively large in concept, in fact a bit like asking if education works? I didn't particularly shine at Secondary Modern School. Ok I was in the top stream and did moderately well, but if I'm honest I was pretty lazy. I seem to remember one school report observed dryly "James has two speeds: Dead slow and stop." I didn't apply myself, messed around and hence only obtained fairly mediocre exam results.
For what ever reason, I wasn't ready to be able to get the most from education at that time. But I've never forgotten the teachers and their efforts at trying to educate and enlighten me, and I've always suspected it's the same with probation. For many our influence will not be immediate, but of the 'slow burn' sort. I think most PO's will at some time have had people come up to them and say something like 'Hi there - you won't remember me, but it's been x years since you wrote that report/had me on probation/supervised me on licence and now I'm married, got a job and been out of trouble' and with that they disappear.
With all this in mind, it was refreshing to come across some affirmation in this piece by academic Fergus McNeill on the Discovering Desistance website and in answer to questions put to him by the French Probation Service.
According to desistance studies, which are the main factors that lead to stop criminal activity?