The integrative study will bear reference to the practice undertaken in achieving competence in the following four National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ’s). The first of these units is that of ‘Enabling individuals to understand and address their difficulties’ (E409). The second unit (D308) is to ‘Deliver externally validated evidence based programmes designed to reduce the likelihood of re-offending by offenders who pose a medium-low risk of harm.’ The third of the four units to be referred to throughout this study is ‘Representing the agency in courts and formal hearings’ (F407). The final unit is to ‘Plan, Supervise, Enforce and Review sentences in the community’ (D202).

In support of my professional practice within these units I will also be referring to an offender known as MM, a male convicted of racially aggravated threats and harassment/possession of an offensive weapon. He initially received a 1 year Community Rehabilitation Order (CRO) and subsequently a 2 year CRO with ASRO (Addressing Substance Related Offending) and ETS (Enhanced Thinking Skills) programme conditions respectively.

The issue of concern to be focused upon throughout this study relates to the transformation of the Probation Service within the last twenty years. The traditional aspirations of the service, to ‘advise, assist and befriend,’ its social work core and rehabilitative drive, have been replaced by the ideology of law enforcement, encompassing the ideas of compliance and working within a legalistic framework of National Standards (NS). As a result of this immense theoretical shift the professional practice of Probation Officers has invariably changed to meet the expectations of the modern day NPS.  These ‘expectations’ are neatly summarised in a key text entitled ‘A New Choreography – A strategic framework’ (2001 Pp.iv), yet George Mair’s ‘official ideological trinity’ (Mair Pp. 286) further encapsulates the significance of a three pronged drive – Public protection, enforcement and rehabilitation. It is within these expectations that the fundamental concern can be located – How can I increase the likelihood of offenders complying with supervision whilst at the same time working towards their rehabilitation? Or perhaps on a more holistic level; can the ideals of rehabilitation and enforcement co-exist and compliment each other in the modern NPS?

As a trainee the knowledge and understanding I carried into the workplace were built around the historical context of the Service (McWilliams 1983, 85, 86, 87). Indeed it was my pre-conception that social work values and rehabilitation were the key aspects of probation work. According to Harris (1995 Pp.181) ‘Providing similar services without sanction would be social work,’ and fourteen months into my traineeship I can not only acknowledge the differences between social work and probation work, but recognise the significance of the ‘dual role’ of Probation Officers. My own professional development through continued practice and learning opportunities has thus resulted in the continued development of both the ‘Legalistic and surveillance role and the helping, therapeutic or problem solving role’ (Trotter 1999 Pp.3). It is through the chosen NVQ units that I can demonstrate how the application of theory and professional knowledge to practice has enabled me to balance the two roles.

The recent role of rehabilitation within the Probation Service can be charted by two major shifts in thinking. The much maligned ‘Nothing Works’ principle (Martinson 1974) severely damaged the respectability of the rehabilitative ideal throughout the 1970s and 80s. However the 1990s introduced a further shift in thinking, the ‘What Works’ philosophy. This ascertained that ‘some things work for some people some of the time’ (Hedderman & Hough Pp.153). As a trainee the significance of understanding these ideological shifts in thinking cannot be overstated, particularly when the very substance of ones work relies on evidence based practice. Upon completing the academic module ‘Understanding and Accessing Accredited Programmes’ my knowledge of the ‘What Works’ framework was vital. Indeed these cognitive behavioural programmes, ‘proven through research to be effective’ (Farrow 2004 Pp.207) signified an ‘empirical resurgence of rehabilitative objectives,’ and formed one side of the dual role for practitioners. The application of such knowledge and theory predominantly stemmed from my training and delivery of the ETS programme.

According to Chapman and Hough (Mair 2004. Pp.185) the delivery of programmes should incorporate notions of ‘pro-social modeling.’ Trotter (1999) defines this concept as involving….

          “Workers identifying and being clear about the values they wish to promote and purposefully encouraging those

                  values through the use of praise and other rewards.”

He also believes that such values should be appropriately modeled and that ‘anti-social or pro-criminal ‘attitudes should be challenged. Essentially this theory underpins the idea that ‘positive reinforcement’ can be seen to be more effective in securing both the offenders attendance to the specified programme and their active and willing compliance. As a tutor, programmes training taught me how to apply these principles into my practice, yet practicing them in a training environment is very different from delivering the real thing.

This concept of ‘pro-social modeling’ played a pivotal role in my experiences of delivering ETS. Upon commencement it was clearly evident that the group had short attention spans, were disruptive, refused to engage and were keen to leave as soon as possible. On reflection the skills and knowledge developed through training did not seem to matter in these initial stages. My primary concern was to get through the material as quickly as possible – destroying the idea of programme integrity and negating the concept of effective practice. Yet as the sessions progressed my confidence in myself, the group and the material increased, as did the importance of applying theory and knowledge to practice. The relaying of material began to flow, motivational techniques were adapted and utilised, and encouraging/rewarding individuals with praise became more prominent.

Increasing the level of participation was at times extremely challenging, yet when I felt I was failing I adopted techniques which Trotter (1999 Pp.24-25) describes as approaches that ‘sometimes work.’ One such approach was that of humour, an aspect of the ‘Worker-Client’ relationship which is not greatly documented as a skill per se. According to Pollio (1995) the use of humour can be ‘harmful and inappropriate,’ yet he too acknowledges that it can also be helpful in humanising the work undertaken. Another such approach is that of self-disclosure, which again acts to humanise situations and is an aspect of pro-social modeling itself (Andrews & Bonta 1994).

Although I found these skills helpful in increasing participation I was also aware that issues of ADP were potentially evident; that is to say I would not use humour at a group members expense or make light of any offending/anti-social behaviour. On reflecting upon the compliance of the group I was startled after session nine to discover that one of the group members revealed that he was dyslexic, and upon informing the case manager and PSR writer neither were aware of his condition. This made me feel guilty in the respect that he had endured eight sessions of ETS, which relied heavily on reading material and writing, yet his condition had not been detected at numerous stages. However as a result I attended a course aimed at understanding and identifying possible indicators of dyslexia.

The progression of these group deliveries resulted in me assessing myself as being increasingly competent within the guidelines and expectations of effective practice. Programmes reviews of the individuals displayed increasing participation levels. Tutor ratings and treatment management sessions all showed increasing group participation, adherence to the manual and effective styles of delivery. When reflecting on my skills in this arena I would assess that my communication skills, use of praise and challenging anti-social behaviours were my strengths. I felt that my main weakness lay within time management – the sessions always finished early and I did not give enough time in certain group activities. This is something I have been keen to improve, and the current academic module ‘Working in an organisational context’ is something that will help me to improve this skill.

The rehabilitative element of probation work is not merely confined to group work. In the case of MM his initial supervision plan (completed within 15 working days from his court appearance – national; Standards 2000) incorporated not only his capacity and motivation to change, but also the goals and objectives to be worked towards within a sixteen week timeframe (NS 2000). The goals set needed to be SMART; Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time limited; a widely used acronym underpinning the effective practice framework. The objectives set were largely influenced by the ‘helping’ side of my dual role. I wanted to assist him with his mental health problems, excessive alcohol use and poor thinking skills. It was my firm belief at this stage that striving to achieve these goals would bring about the rehabilitation of MM, and to induce this change I utilised a number of specific techniques.

The role of cognitive behaviouralism, as previously mentioned, is a key technique in effecting change.  However I felt that its success within group settings could be applied to the individual setting by using selected ETS material to improve MM’s thinking skills. However despite the notable change in these skills MM re-offended whilst on his original order and was re-sentenced to a 2 year CRO. At this stage (relapse) I have found it useful to apply the Cycle of Change, developed by Prochaska and DiClemente (1983), and adapted by Fleet (1999). This cycle consists of several stages; pre-contemplation, decision, action, maintenance, lapse and relapse.  I have found Fleet’s model to be more attractive in that instances of relapse do not have to mean abandoning the process of change or starting back at the beginning. Instead he/she can return to any of the stages and continue the process. In the case of MM despite his relapse he could return to the stage of maintenance as the progress he had already made could simply be built upon in his subsequent community order

Upon ascertaining where an individual is in terms of the cycle of change it is important to adopt the right techniques in moving the offender through each of the seven stages. When reflecting on my practice overall, but with specific reference to MM, I have found the technique of ‘motivational interviewing’ to be essential. This technique was developed by Miller and Rollnick (1991) who saw it as a “way to help people recognise and address their problems” and identifying the fact that change “involves loss as well as gain.” I have found this approach to be extremely useful with people who are reluctant to change, and in its working with persuasion rather than coercion. ` With MM he believed that there was no point in changing his behaviour as he had nothing to change it for, yet through motivational interviewing I was able to demonstrate the gains he could make through changes in his behaviour. This technique has, on a personal level, developed substantially in the past six months, and I now find it vital in the arenas of one to one supervision and pre-programme work.

A further technique that I have utilised, increasingly more so as the traineeship develops, is that of the solution focused approach. This is a strategy based on ‘where the individual wants to be,’ encapsulating the belief that one should look forward and not back. When applying it in practice I find myself exploring solutions to problems rather than the problems themselves, and looking at the strengths of the clients rather than their weaknesses. In the case of MM we explored mental health agencies and how they could benefit him rather than analysing when he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and how it may have been triggered. I have found this approach to be much more positive and the engagement of the clients and depth of conversation seems to increase. However I am extremely wary of over using the approach – afterall I feel that I do not know enough about it and if applied inappropriately there may be adverse results.

As this study has thus far highlighted I have managed to apply numerous theories and techniques to my practice, with the overall aim of ‘helping’ and rehabilitating the client. However as the introduction stated, this is now a service that operates as a law enforcement agency. This underpins the second aspect of the Probation Officers ‘dual role.’ Thus having applied theories that encourage change in individuals I will now examine the theories and knowledge that forms the enforcement side of the service, and how they have impacted with the helping side.

When working with offenders essentially I operate within a legal framework. Offenders are given a community sentence and are expected to adhere with the basic requirement of the order; to maintain regular contact with the Probation Service. The reason underpinning these needs are highlighted by Whitehead and Thompson (2003 Pp.89)…

(1)   To ensure that offenders comply with the sentencing decision imposed.

(2)   To uphold the rule of law.

(3)   To protect the public.

It may be seen to be reasonable for offenders to adhere with such requirements, yet supervising officers must be well aware of the ‘issues of compliance and enforcement, not simply rehabilitation and therapy.’  As a trainee I feel it is important to develop an understanding as to why offenders cannot attend appointments (reasons may include family difficulties, poor thinking skills, drugs alcohol…the list is endless). However counteracting that understanding is the need to properly enforce orders and achieve the national targets set, which are more often than not cash linked.

So how does the enforcement aspect of Probation work affect my practice? And what theories can I apply to my current practice in relation to enforcement? The purpose of NS was to address the problem of inconsistency and ineffectiveness by introducing ‘more rigour in Probation practice’ (Mullre, A. & Hearnden, I.  Pp.48-49) and providing one set of standards against ‘which Her Majesty’s Inspectorate could evaluate services performance.’ (National Standards 2000 Pp.1). However according to Hearnden and Hedderman (2000) NS is not simply about ‘following orders and being accountable….’

     “They also reassure sentencers and the public that if someone is put on     

          Probation they will be seen regularly enough to ensure the risk   

            Of re-offending and risk of harm are reduced.” (Pp.126)

Thus through newly induced enforcement procedures and NS the Probation Service became standardised and uniform in its practice, accountable for its actions (measurable in terms of results/goals) and increasingly structured through the establishment of a managerialist culture.

When assessing the impact of NS upon my practice it is perhaps most visible when following how it affects my relationship with one offender, MM. Primarily MM must complete his induction for his community order, which in his case was a CRO. When conducting the induction I am required by NS to outline the requirements of the order. One such requirement is that he must attend a minimum of twelve appointments in the first twelve weeks, followed by a further six appointments in the following twelve weeks. His supervision plan, as discussed earlier in this study, must be completed and signed within 15 working days, and reviewed after a 16 week period. A further aspect of NS is to enact breach proceedings after two missed appointments, providing no acceptable evidence is produced by the offender. In the case of MM he failed to attend his first induction and so was issued with a ‘missed appointment 1’ letter and warned that a further absence not promptly explained would result in the order being breached. This description of the required steps of a Probation Officer are merely a few of the requirements set out by NS.

As a trainee Probation officer I immediately felt that any discretion I might have had was in fact taken away by my adherence to the NS guidelines. This was increasingly evident by my accountability to my line manager, with whom I had regular supervision sessions with. Of course the numerous training sessions and the probation culture highlighted the importance of following the NS guidelines rigorously, yet I felt myself looking for loopholes that would allow me to exercise that little bit more discretion. For example, again in reference to MM, I felt that his progress on the order would not warrant a breach should he fail to attend, and thus I sought to increase his level of compliance. However when reflecting on such actions it seems that increased levels of compliance may not matter – each revision of NS has ‘reduced the number of failures an offender is permitted and sought to increase the chances of an order being terminated.’

One primary aspect therefore, of the Probationers role and under the guise of enforcement and National Standards, is to encourage compliance. According to Whitehead and Thompson (2003) compliance is an act ‘yielding to a demand enshrined with legislation, supported by National Standards.’ (Pp. 93). According to Bottoms (2001) the key to encouraging compliance is to understand its mechanisms, and so he proposed four different types; The first is that of instrumental or prudential compliance, the second is constraint based compliance, the third is compliance based on habit and the last type is that of normative compliance. It has become apparent to me that NS use the two areas of constraint and coercion to ‘encourage’ compliance. However despite these ‘enforced’ methods of compliance I have also attempted to understand, utilise and exercise the other two types of compliance with offenders. On reflection I have found habit based compliance to work on occasion, yet have had difficulty in encouraging compliance by making it normative.

In my professional practice thus far I have applied numerous theoretical techniques to encourage compliance. The first and perhaps most successful of these is that of ‘engagement with and relation to the client.’ In a study by Sinclair (1971) he found that successful hostels had staff who combined ‘emotional warmth, kindness and an understanding.’ I have used this skill with the sole aim of encouraging compliance, particularly with resettlement cases where compliance is encouraged more than in the CRO team. However whilst developing this skill may yield dividends with compliance I must be aware that it could also result in the offender seeing you as a friend rather than a Probation Officer. As I formed a relationship with MM the boundaries between us began to blur, that is he began to see me as a friend rather than a supervisor. However on one occasion he simply called me by my last name, and so I had to redefine the boundaries of our relationship by explaining clearly my role and the expectations of his current order.

Clear communication is important in terms of reinforcing the requirements of the order at the beginning of the sentence. However it also acts as a means of maintaining professional boundaries (as above) and completing the targets identified in supervision plans in an effective/efficient manner. I have found my communication skills to be vital in achieving measurable changes in the thinking skills and behaviour of individual. In some cases however I have found that clear communication is not the only key to encouraging compliance, and that these skills are required to work in tandem with other compliant based drives. In the case of MM he had been diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia, and on occasions during our supervision sessions he would divert our conversation to something completely different, or not seem to comprehend what we were doing.

This leads us on to the concept of ‘responsivity,’ and in particular I shall relate to the work of Ian Crow (2001). According to Crow, we as practitioners must be ‘responsive to offenders needs.’ Essentially by being responsive to MM (facilitated by his OASys identified needs) I was able to allow MM to redirect himself back to the focus of our supervision session in his own time, yet this was a skill that has developed with practice and time Again this type of skill works hand in hand with a further skill, the capacity to be flexible, which on reflection is a skill that I have refined well. As a trainee our caseload remains considerably low compared to main grade officers, and so the flexibility we exercise can be significantly higher than that of the qualified officers. By maintaining my flexibility with appointments, yet maintaining my professional role and outlining the expectations of the Probation Service, I have discovered that compliance is significantly increased. However my concern here is that once I have qualified and receive a larger caseload, I will lose some of that flexibility, and consequently drift towards enforcement.

A further area of encouraging compliance is that of engaging methods of working, which include motivational interviewing and pro-social modelling – two of the many methods I had previously discussed. It would seem that we have come a complete circle, introducing techniques that rehabilitate yet encourage compliance too.

Thus far this study has examined how I have applied the notions of theory to practice, using the dual element of rehabilitation and enforcement to extract the relevant theories and in each instant apply them to a given situation. However what runs continuously throughout these elements, and in essence unifies them, is the notion of anti-discriminatory practice (ADP). As a trainee it is easy to become overwhelmed with numerous theories that we must apply, however offenders are not one homogenous group. Instead I have learned through theories of ADP and AOP (through the effective practice guidelines) that principles of equal opportunities and diversity remain key features that should be retained in all aspects of Probation work. Upon entering the service it is fair to say that I had my own prejudices and stereo-types, some of which I did not know I had until they became visible within my practice. However as the traineeship has progressed I have been able to unpack the theories of ADP and AOP and utilise the resources provided alongside the theories I have outlined throughout this study. Indeed in the case of MM there were many areas where potential ADP issues could have surfaced, however as a professional I have been able to increase my awareness, and his, through applying this type of theory to practice. One example of this application was MM’s obvious racist attitude in the early part of his order – and thus through methods of enforcement, rehabilitation and ADP I was able to explore, challenge and effect change in his attitudes and behaviours towards others. It must be acknowledged at this point that the ethical frameworks of effective practice and enforcement unify to promote ADP.

As a trainee Probation Officer I have entered the service in this current climate, and both National Standards/enforcement processes and ADP are key aspects of the job. Given the deep rooted traditions of the Probation Service, the desire of many to keep the social work/welfare element, and the current law enforcement environment the current crop of trainees have entered an atmosphere which contains a great deal of conflict and contradiction within the ranks. The question of discretion and the extent to which it can be exercised remains a key area of discord within the service, and so as a trainee the question as to how I have applied National Standards (rigorously or otherwise) and the extent to which I have used discretion remains prominent.

In conclusion one would surmise that I have found it extremely difficult in coming to terms with the dual role of the Probation Officer. Trotter (1999 pp.4) states that ‘workers find it easier to focus on one of the roles at the exclusion of the other.’ On reflection this theory appears to support my practice in that I have primarily concentrated on the ‘helping role.’ However the progression of the traineeship has taught me that I have little discretion (The legal and Policy framework module) or freedom to make decisions when working within the National Standards framework. Issues of accountability and the NPS expectations have invariably led to an increased responsibility within my ‘legalistic role.’ Presently I strive to achieve an appropriate balance between the two roles, achieving this through the application of theoretical knowledge, understanding and experience to my current professional practice – through which this study has sought to demonstrate. The question as to whether this balance can be maintained is something that will remain unanswered – Should the probation Service move towards a progressively punitive dichotomy then the ‘helping, therapeutic’ role may yet become obsolete. This idea leaves me to simply alter the famous quote of Mr Paul Boetang (2000)…..

    “I am a law enforcement officer. It’s what I am. Its what I do.”



Bottoms, A. E. (2001)

‘Compliance and community penalties’ in

Bottoms, A. E, Gelsthorpe, L. & Rex, S. A. (eds)

Community Penalties: Change and Challenges

Cullompton: Willan


Chui, W. H. & Nellis, M. (2003)

Moving Probation Forward – Evidence, arguments and practice.

London: Pearson Longman


Farrow, K. (2004)

‘Still committed after all these years? Morale in the modern day probation Service.’

Probation Journal Vol: 51 (3)

London: Sage Publications


Harris (1995)

Found in ‘Enforcing supervision and encouraging compliance’

Chui, W. H. & Nellis, M. (2003)

Moving Probation Forward – Evidence, arguments and practice.

London: Pearson Longman


Hedderman, C. & Hough, M. (2003)

Found in

Mair, G. (2004)

What matters in Probation

London: Willan Publishing


Home Office (2001)

A New Choreography – A Strategic Framework for England and Wales

London: Home Office


Home Office (2000)

National Standards for the supervision of offenders in the community

London: Home Office


Maguire, J. & Priestly, P. (1995)

What Works – Reducing Re-offending

Chichester: Wiley


Mair, G. (2004)

What matters in Probation

London: Willan Publishing


Miller, W. R. & Rollnick, S. (1991)

Motivational Interviewing

New York: Guildford Press.


Pollio, D. (1995)

Found in

Trotter, C. (1999 Pp. 27)

Working with Involuntary Clients.

London: Sage Publications


Prochaska & DiClemente (1983 Pp. 390-395)

‘Stages and processes of self change of smoking: Toward an integrative model of change.’

Journal of consulting and clinical psychology


Sharry, J. Madden, B. & Darmody, M. (2001)

Solution detective – A strengths-based guide to brief therapy

Chippenham, Wiltshire: BT Press


Trotter, C. (1999)

Working with Involuntary Clients.

London: Sage Publications


Whitehead, P. & Thompson, J. (2003)

Knowledge and the Probation Service

London: John Wiley & Sons.




Copyright(C) 2007 - 2020. All rights reserved.