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LETTER: Probation Service: change of ethos

From Mr Oliver Westmoreland

Sir: Professor David Ward says in his letter (22 January) about the Probation Service that there is "ample evidence" that the social work approach of probation services has been "effective in reducing reoffending". However, he does not adduce or even mention any specific evidence at all. Only a few days ago, a widely reported survey suggested that the practice of the Probation Service had not been effective in reducing re-offending.

He goes on to talk about the high standard of professional training: probation officers have received at university and expresses his fears that this standard will be eroded if the Home Secretary's proposals are enacted. Surely, the worth and validity of such an institution and its practices can only be measured by their success rate.

The Probation Service has put enormous effort and a fair amount of money into equal opportunities policies, even perhaps in some cases at the expense of more basic areas. This reflects the contemporary ethos of the sociology or psychology graduate. Is there not at least a chance that the introduction of people from different backgrounds of a more "down-to-earth" character might improve the performance of the Probation Service?

Current probation practice tends towards the opinion that offenders are not really "guilty", because they are themselves victims of poverty, racism, deprivation and so on. Worthy as this attitude may be, perhaps it has had its day.

Yours faithfully,


London, N2

22 February