Supervising offenders in the community

Vision, values and human rights

Authored by: Loraine Gelsthorpe , Madeline-Sophie Abbas

The Routledge International Handbook of Criminology and Human Rights

Print publication date:  August  2016
Online publication date:  August  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138931176
eBook ISBN: 9781315679891
Adobe ISBN: 9781317395553


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It seems rather odd to be writing a chapter about human rights and community penalties at a point where the British Government is contemplating scrapping the Human Rights Act 1998 (hereafter the HRA), 1 and when the delivery of community penalties has itself been subject to major overhaul to a point where elements of the community supervision of offenders in England and Wales are hardly recognizable (Robinson et al. 2015). This said, it is perhaps both fitting and timely to revisit some of the relevant issues precisely because of the British government’s intentions. Indeed, worldwide, there has been a renaissance of interest in both ‘helping relationships’ in the community and in making supervision in the community from probation officers, parole officers and others (bearing in mind different titles for supervisors of offenders in the community in different contexts) more effective. Such renewed interest, with concomitant practical developments, raises important questions about human rights. Certainly, such developments need to be placed in a context of attempts to legitimize community penalties as ‘real sentences’ as well as the fact that in times of austerity budgeting they cost less than imprisonment. Focusing on developments in England and Wales, by way of illustration, it is clear that moves towards the privatization of community penalties highlight questions as to whether professional values (including commitment to human rights) can help guard against the worst effects of fragmentation and inconsistency in service delivery as more organizations enter the offender management market. Fiscal austerity in the post-2007 period in England and Wales has supported a qualitatively different era in which the predominance of marketized logic has reformulated contemporary organizations, both within government and the third sector. The opening up of the provision of community-based supervision and rehabilitative services to diverse providers within private and voluntary sectors and the development of ‘payment by results’ in reducing reoffending re-casts the role and values of probation and community supervision (Fox and Albertson 2011, Burke and Collett 2015). Indeed, it is suggested that shifting community supervision into the matrix of market expansion and capital accumulation severs the lineaments of a moral economy based on justice, truth and fairness (Whitehead and Crawshaw 2013). Whilst the Probation Service in the United Kingdom (UK) has traditionally symbolized humanitarian values based around social work (Gelsthorpe 2007, p. 485), the rise of the third and private sectors as providers competes as proponents of ‘care’ for offenders. The creeping marketization of criminal justice thus nudges concerns about values and human rights to the periphery in the treatment of offenders within a context of fiscal realignments and ‘punitive and bureaucratic expansion’ which have arguably contributed to the undermining of a moral economy within criminal justice.

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