Create probation institutes in universities and professionalise the service, argues criminal justice expert

Probation institutes should be set up in universities to enhance the rehabilitation of people who have committed crime, a leading criminal justice expert argues today (3 December).

Professor Jonathan Shepherd, whose research inspired the creation of the College of Policing and community safety partnerships, also recommends establishing a new professional body to give probation an independent national voice and improve standards.

The proposals are set out in a new pamphlet, published by the Howard League for Penal Reform, called 'Professionalising the probation service: Why university institutes would transform rehabilitation'.

Professor Shepherd, a professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery at Cardiff University, argues that the reforms would transform the everyday work of probation, increasing the service's standing and credibility, facilitating innovation and improving recruitment standards.

His proposals come at a key time, as the government plans to break up the current probation service and hand the majority of work to the private sector.

Professor Shepherd writes:

"Offending imposes huge cost on taxpayers which are especially burdensome in the prevailing economic conditions.

"Never before has there been such a need for effective and cost-effective rehabilitation of those who offend. But compared to other public services such as the NHS, there is little reliable evidence about what works in this area, and therefore relatively few effective interventions can be implemented to tackle the problem."

Professor Shepherd's vision is one in which probation officers and researchers work together and there is a determined effort to come up with evidence-based solutions to reoffending. He argues that, in order to bring these changes about, it is necessary to 'professionalise' the probation service by setting up institutes in research-intensive universities.

Prison Bars by Andrew bardwell via Wikimedia Commons

Prison Bars by Andrew Bardwell

He writes: "Similar steps are being taken in policing and in primary and secondary education. These professionalisation reforms in probation are overdue, and are particularly important in the context of proposed reforms designed to diversify rehabilitation services."

The pamphlet is to be launched today (3 December 2013) at a parliamentary event chaired by Lord Ramsbotham. Panellists will include Professor Shepherd; Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform; and Savas Hadjipavlou, Chief Executive of the Probation Chiefs Association.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said:

"The probation service has served our country well for more than a century, but its success story is a story seldom told. Dismantling the service and handing most of its work to the private sector will put public safety at risk.

"The Howard League is opposed to the government's planned reforms and will fight them all the way. However, if they go ahead, it will be all the more important to protect good practice and Jonathan Shepherd's timely proposals are a valuable contribution to that debate."

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