Letter: On probation

Sir: The Home Secretary criticises the Probation Service for the inadequate enforcement of community penalties (report, 22 July).

Community penalties will always pose difficulties of enforcement. This is because punishments in the community require people to do something - report to an officer, work, pay a fine - or at least to refrain from something, and this entails a possibility of default. Prison makes no such demands. Probation officers must try to motivate and encourage as well as use negative inducements to secure compliance. Probation officers must also make a judgement about whether (for example) a failure to attend is, in the circumstances, reasonable or not. Merely counting absences cannot answer questions of this kind.

The Home Secretary's apparent assumptions that every missed appointment is reprehensible or that an officer's failure to return the probationer to court is negligent or "soft" are facile and unfounded. A fairer criticism of the service would be that too little is known about the way such judgements are taken.


Special Lecturer in Criminology

University of Nottingham