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The research catalogue is an archive of ESRC-funded grants and outputs. Links, files and other content will no longer be maintained or updated after April 2014.

Probation officers, their occupational cultures and offender management

Grant reference: RES-000-22-3979

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Impact Report details

Probation workers, their occupational cultures and offender management: Impact Report
The mandatory Impact Report, completed 12 months following the end of the project.

Primary contributor

Co-author Robert Mawby

Additional contributors

Co-author Anne Worrall


The project has had scientific impact in the sense of contributing to disciplinary and cross-disciplinary understandings of occupational cultures and the innovative application of organisational theory to an area of criminological interest. More specifically, the impact comprises: (1) The identification of the characteristics of probation workers’ occupational cultures. (2) The closing of research and literature gaps by creating new knowledge of probation cultures. (3) The dissemination of new knowledge of probation workers and their perceptions of their occupation. (4) The application, for the first time, of innovative sociological and organisational concepts to probation work that help explain how probation workers respond to a turbulent operational context. (5) The argument that occupational cultures can contribute to meaningful work for individuals and can benefit the organisational goal of effective offender management.

The project findings relating to the impact in 1A include: • Probation cultures vary across settings but core features include: probation work as ‘more than just a job’; a belief in offender change and their ability to effect it; yearnings for autonomy and opportunities to be responsibly creative; valuing thinking and reflecting; managing emotional responses; long office hours, weariness, cynicism and group solidarity; high levels of organisation and computer literacy; multi-specialism; feminisation; and liminality. • Probation workers come from a variety of backgrounds, although there are three identifiable broad groupings: ‘lifers’, ‘second careerists’ and ‘offender managers’. • Probation work now resembles other public sector office work, consisting of computer work in open plan offices and office appointments with offenders. • Probation workers are multi-specialists with a wide range of experience, skills and knowledge drawn from a variety of settings. • Probation is a ‘feminised’ occupation and this has important, possibly unexpected, consequences for the cultures of the organisation. • Doing probation work is stressful. Individual and group coping mechanisms can be understood by applying the sociological concept of ‘edgework’ and concepts from the organisational studies literature including ‘exit, voice, loyalty and neglect’, ‘organisational cynicism’ and ‘organisational expedience’. • Probation cultures are complex but, if properly understood, enhance rather than undermine the supervision of offenders and ‘offender management’, however interpreted. The outputs contributing to the impact to date are those listed in the ‘End of Award Report’ (and below) and uploaded to the Research Outcomes System

These impacts were achieved through: • Research presentations and seminars at Universities (Leicester, Keele, Manchester and Cambridge) to academic, student and practitioner audiences. • Conferences presentations (The 2011 British Society of Criminology Conference and the ‘Women, Crime and Criminal Justice Practice’ conference at Cambridge University in January 2012). • Establishing a project web-page: • A project conference attended by academics, students and practitioners in September 2011. • Publications written for different audiences (academics, postgraduate researchers, practitioners), namely: o Mawby, R.C. & Worrall, A. (2011) ‘ “They were very threatening about do-gooding bastards”: Probation’s changing relationships with the police and prison services in England and Wales’ European Journal of Probation, 3(3): 78-94. o Worrall, A. & Mawby, R.C. (2011) ‘Probation workers – still the “servants of the court”?’ The Magistrate, Winter, 2011, p.12. o Mawby, R.C. & Worrall, A. (2011) Probation workers and their occupational cultures. Leicester: University of Leicester. Report of project findings. o Worrall, A. & Mawby, R.C. (2011) ‘It is rocket science: the role of the probation worker in today’s turbulent times’ in Britain in 2012, Annual magazine of the ESRC p.25. o Worrall, A. & Mawby, R.C. (2012) ‘Unlikely edgeworkers: probation workers and voluntary risk-taking’ ECAN Bulletin 13:6-9. o Mawby, R.C. and Worrall, A. (forthcoming) Doing Probation Work: Identity in a Criminal Justice Occupation, London: Routledge. o Worrall, A. and Mawby, R.C. (forthcoming) ‘Probation worker responses to turbulent conditions: constructing identity in a tainted occupation’ The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology.

In terms of scientific impact, the findings and outputs have primarily targeted criminologists within the academic community. There is a thriving academic community with an interest in probation research and we have presented to, and written for, these audiences. There is also a considerable cross-over between probation professionals and the academic world and we have deliberately involved this group in our feedback and dissemination plans. In this connection, following on from the project Anne Worrall has been invited to be involved in the setting up of an academic advisory panel that provides research advice to the Probation Chiefs Association. There is some evidence that the project has impacted on the post-graduate research community. We invited post-graduates to the project conference and wrote an article for the Howard League’s Early Career Academic Network’s bulletin which generated interest from post-graduate students. The research was also presented to an international audience of security professionals at a University of Leicester study school in September 2012.

We would expect the impact of our project to be subtle and incremental rather than immediate and clearly demonstrable. Nevertheless, the research has not only pursued advances in academic understanding, but has also generated outputs and activities that will inform the development of the policy and practice of ‘Offender Management’ by NOMS (thereby contributing to the effectiveness of public services and policy). We have therefore engaged in relevant policy consultations, kept the Probation Chiefs Association appraised of our progress, disseminated ‘plain English’ publications, invited probation workers of all grades to our project conference, and one of us (Anne Worrall) has continued to work with the PCA with a view to improving links between the organisation and academics specialising in probation studies and research. In addition to impact at this policy and practice level, we have attempted to increase awareness of probation work at a public level and within the magistracy (including a presentation at a workshop funded by the Magistrates Association on the future of the magistracy). We consider this to be an important level of impact given the low public profile of probation work.

Findings: • Probation work is stressful and bureaucratic and many aspects of it resemble other public sector office work. Yet probation workers yearn to be responsibly creative in direct work with offenders. • Probation work increasingly involves working with other agencies. Probation workers’ relations with the courts are characterised by an immediacy that can be both testing and exciting at times. The probation-prison relationship remains complex and has become more problematic since the creation of NOMS. The improved relationship between the police and probation services is marked, but cultural differences remain. • Probation workers feel that their work is not well understood by the general public and is ignored or distorted by the media. The self-effacing character of the probation service is not conducive to the proactive promotion of the organisation. The influence of NAPO on the cultures of probation work has declined but, paradoxically, it remains the most publicly recognisable voice of the service. Outputs: • Submission of evidence to the House of Commons Justice Select Committee inquiry into the role of the Probation Service. • Short articles for The Magistrate, Winter, 2011 and for Britain in 2012, Annual magazine of the ESRC. • ‘Plain English report’, Probation workers and their occupational cultures. Distributed to project participants, the Probation Chiefs Association, the Magistrates Association, NOMs representatives, academics. • Public lectures at the Universities of Western Australia and Keele (the latter followed by the dissemination of a fact sheet on the Probation Service to subscribers to the lecture series).

The impacts were achieved through the implementation of a communications plan combined with the taking of opportunities that arose as the project progressed. In outline, the impacts were achieved through: • Contributing short articles to non-academic publications (The Magistrate, Britain in 2012). • Presenting two public lectures. • Visiting Universities to present our ongoing work and findings to a mixed audience of practitioners and academics. • Publicising the research through our project website. • Submitting evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee consultation. • One researcher (Anne Worrall) continuing to work with the PCA on academic/ practitioner links. • Attendance at a London round-table meeting on the government’s consultation papers on changes to probation. Organised by the Local Government Information Unit and UNISON in June 2012.

The impact has been at the level of: • Members of Parliament (through evidence to the Select Committee) • Probation managers and practitioners and (through publications and the project conference) • Magistrates (through a seminar presentation and a targeted publication) • The wider public (through two public lectures and plain English outputs)

In addition to the outputs listed in the ‘End of Award Report’ and submitted to the Research Outcomes System, we have two forthcoming publications: • In February 2013 Routledge will publish our research monograph, Doing Probation Work: Identity in a Criminal Justice Occupation. The manuscript has been completed and is now in the production process. We have hopes that this book will have a significant impact in academic circles. • An article has been accepted for publication by the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology. Entitled ‘Probation worker responses to turbulent conditions: constructing identity in a tainted occupation’, it is scheduled to appear in the first issue of 2013. We are already feeding knowledge gained from the research into our undergraduate teaching at Leicester and post-graduate teaching at Keele. Building on this, we are exploring the development of a Masters module based on criminal justice occupational cultures.

Not applicable

While we are satisfied with the number of publications that we have developed from the research, it is worth mentioning that the standard book contract we have signed restricts the amount of material in the book that we may draw on in other publications. This restricts the extent to which further papers can be written for publication in journals, if we wish to draw on data in the book to support the development of new and/or advanced arguments.

Not applicable

Cite this outcome


Mawby, Robert and Worrall, Anne. Probation officers, their occupational cultures and offender management: ESRC Impact Report, RES-000-22-3979. Swindon: ESRC


Mawby Robert and Worrall Anne. Probation officers, their occupational cultures and offender management: ESRC Impact Report, RES-000-22-3979. Swindon: ESRC.