Actually, I’m back home this week, but had a really interesting week last week visiting Probation Trusts in Wiltshire, West Yorks and South Yorks. It was sitting in the first event listening to the Chief’s intro that I started mentally joining a few dots about where debates about desistance fit in with current developments within probation down south. Maybe people are starting to engage partly because of anxieties and demands (and even excitement) created by the reform agenda there. Even if I accepted a cynical reading of the new emphasis on professional autonomy and professional judgement (i.e. it’s all about de-regulating an emerging market), and I’m NOT saying that I do accept that reading, this new emphasis on autonomy is making people re-engage with some thorny questions about the nature of professionalism in probation.
Two classic attributes of professions are the (sole) possession of a distinctive body of knowledge (i.e. that which confers the basis of an exclusive right to practice) and of a distinctive code of ethics (i.e. that which represents and distills the perspective and values of the profession). By coincidence rather than design my two talks at these various events were about ‘Supporting Desistance: Reconfiguring Probation’ — i.e. a kind of contribution to the knowledge base for practice — and ‘Morality and Quality in Probation Work’ — i.e. a kind of contribution to re-emerging debates about probation’s values and the practice ‘virtues’ that seem likely to support change.
Of course, desistance perspectives also create some pretty profound challenges for professionals. Where they put the emphasis on the process belonging to the individual, and on the importance of discovering agency (or the ability to govern one’s one life) in the process, they seem to rub up against professional power — or attempts to put professional practices at the centre of the change process. As Shadd once put it (I think — correct me if I am wrong, Shadd) — the professionalisation of intervention threatens to steal the change process from the individual, just as Nils Christie once argued that the institutionalisation of criminal justice steals the crime conflict from the victim and the offender — rendering both as passive sources of evidence.
For me, this implies the need to rethink what professionalism really means… maybe that’s another challenge for this project to engage with…