A smarter approach to sentencing? Aspirations, challenges, and implications for probation practice in England and Wales

Michelle Joyce Louise McDermott, Anne Burrell*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The paper considers the thinking articulated in the White Paper, ‘A smarter approach to sentencing,’ and evaluates its potential impact on probation practice in England and Wales. Both authors are experienced probation practitioners, now concerned with the training of future Probation Officers. A specific focus of the article considers the retention of practitioners, at a time when the attrition of staff is significant. (HMPPS, 2022a.)

The paper examines the roots for the historical context for probation work, with reference to McWilliams (1983, 1985, 1986 and 1987); and the specific consequences of more recent organisational restructures of probation, notably the split in services generated via Transforming Rehabilitation, and the current reintegration of probation work into a sole public sector service. A specific theme of the paper is concerned with the professional identity of probation practitioners, with particular reference to Paillé’s ideas regarding organisational citizenship (2010 and 2011). It suggests that a process of deprofessionalisation of probation work has occurred over recent decades, in part a consequence of organisational change. The paper suggests that, linked to these trends. there has been a corresponding (unintended) erosion of what could be perceived to be traditional probation values (Canton, 2011). All these factors are identified as significant in addressing the challenges of staff retention.

The paper concludes with a call for a return to values of vocational practice, in order to protect the professional status of probation work, and to enable the sustenance and retention of probation practitioners over time.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
JournalBritish Journal of Community Justice
Early online date26 Jul 2023
Publication statusEarly online - 26 Jul 2023


  • Professionalism
  • professional identity
  • vocation
  • organisational commitment

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