The History of Probation – Part Two

Welcome back to the history of probation. I ended part one with the following:

“The Police Court Mission (PCM) was founded by the CETS in 1876 and began in London; offenders could avoid punishment by being placed under the supervision of court missionaries, for practical support and guidance and were also encouraged to sign the temperance pledge to abstain from drinking. These Police Court Missionaries were effectively early Probation Officers and as legislation moved on during the early part of the twentieth century, so some court missionaries were given official status as ‘Officers of the Court’, and later official Probation Officers.” (White Ribbon Association, Police Court Mission, WordPress)

It was the introduction of the Probation of Offenders Act 1907 which saw the previous missionaries become, what we now know as, probation practitioners.

Part two

Frederic Rainer is considered to be the father of probation with the formation of the Police Court Missionaries, however, on August 1, 1876, former Coldstream Guard, George Nelson was selected as the first police court missionary. Nelson was based in Southwark Police Court. He was followed a year later by William Batchelor, the second missionary, who was based in the police courts at Bow Street, and Mansion House.

Not the best of images but written below is the text taken from the tablet, located at The Guild Hall, Windsor.
‘Glory be to God for the life of Frederic Rainer. Born 1836 Died 1911. A native of Windsor and a resident of this parish. A lover of fallen humanity and a worker in the cause of temperance to whose suggestion the Police Court Mission owed its origin in 1876 when the Church of England Temperance Society appointed the first missionary to a South London court its subsequent expansion led to the probation acts which now adorn the statute books of England. This tablet was erected in the year of Jubilee 1926. “Blessed be the merciful for they shall obtain mercy” S. Matthew V. 7.’ (

I have also been able to locate a copy of the 1907 Probation Act, or to give it its long title ‘An Act to permit the Release on Probation of Offenders in certain cases, and for other matters incidental thereto.’ (

‘(2) Where any person has been convicted on indictment of any offence punishable with imprisonment, and the court is of opinion that, having regard to the character, antecedents, age, health, or mental condition of the person charged, or to the trivial nature of the offence, or to the extenuating circumstances under which the offence was committed, it is inexpedient to inflict any punishment or any other than a nominal punishment, or that it is expedient to release the offender on probation, the court may, in lieu of imposing a sentence of imprisonment, make an order discharging the offender conditionally on his entering into a recognizance, with or without sureties, to be of good behaviour and to appear for sentence when called on at any time during such period, not exceeding three years, as may be specified in the order.’

Since its 1907 inception, The Probation Service, has gone through many changes. Having said that, since my relationship began with them in the early eighties, I have witnessed several myself and other than the recent reunification of probation, I can’t think of many positives.

My first ‘probation officer’, coincidentally, was a George. George Ansell, who I’m honoured to say was awarded an MBE. The following is from a London Gazette supplement dated, December 31, 1987.

George John ANSELL, Probation Officer. For services to Thanet Victim Support Scheme.

Sorry about that, I did say in part one this isn’t about my history, but I got distracted a bit.

Between 1907 – 1921 the average number of those on probation was approx. 10,000 per year, then, by 1925, there were 13,838 people on probation, and by 1927 this figure had risen to 15,094. However, of those 15,094, 6,537 were juveniles. In 1925, home secretary, William Joynson-Hicks established a committee to investigate how ‘young offenders’ were being treated.

Sir Thomas Molony’s Grave

The committee, headed-up by, Sir Thomas Molony published their findings in 1927. The report, which became the foundation for the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, recommended the use of juvenile courts and they be staffed by people with “a love of young people, sympathy with their interests, and an imaginative insight into their differences.” The committee stated “It is often a mere accident whether he is brought before the court because he was wandering or beyond control or because he committed some offence. Neglect leads to delinquency. The two problems are closely connected and can conveniently be dealt with together, because neglect and delinquency often go hand in hand.”

Today’s existence of the school to prison pipeline, which for years has been in full flow, shows me the difference between words and action. Have we ever tackled the issue head on? Evidence shows we have been aware of the differences for over a century and yet here we are with a statistic which suggests young people permanently excluded from school have a one in two chance of ending up in prison. In 2022!

Nineteen thirty-eight, saw the home office assume control of probation and the year it was made mandatory for females on probation to be supervised by female officers.

The Criminal Justice Act 1948 paradoxically saw the end of imprisonment for young people aged seventeen and under. I say paradoxically because the act also saw the introduction of my, in 1985, first sentence of custody in, detention centres. Places, they believed, where strict discipline was the solution. This year was also the year attendance centres were introduced.

Coming up in the final part in the history of probation, the 1950s to present day.

5 thoughts on “The History of Probation – Part Two

  1. Have to say David these two pieces so far have been fascinating. Never given the history of probation any thought. Have to say my probation officers were all motivated positive people, the problem being they kept being moved around and I think for those who truly needed support all those changes are unsettling. Used to spend my probation sessions listening to their concerns and also their pride at their successes.
    Great articles. Cannot wait for the next

    Liked by 1 person

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