The History of Probation – Part three

I finished part two with a brief look at the Criminal Justice Act 1948 and the introduction of detention, and attendance, centres. AC/DC, although I wasn’t a fan (of the band, attendance centres, and detention centres) were more than just a rock band in my life. I can still remember my time as a teenager at a school in Canterbury, where I had to spend two hours every Saturday morning, until I completed the 12 hours I was sentenced to back in the day.

Part Three

Before moving onto the 1950s onwards, I wanted to mention something which took place in the 1930s.

In 1934, with the expansion of the services provided by probation used by the courts, a committee was set up by the Home Office:

“to inquire into the social services connected with the administration of justice in courts of summary jurisdiction, including the supervision of persons released on probation and in suitable cases of persons ordered to pay fines; the application of conciliation methods to matrimonial disputes; the making of social investigations on behalf of the court and other work falling or likely to fall upon probation officers; and to report on the above questions and as to what changes are required in the existing organisation of probation services and otherwise.”

One of the recommendations of the committee’s report, which was published in 1936, stated

“The Home Office should accept greater responsibility for the general administration, supervision and direction of the probation service. The officials should keep in close touch with the probation authorities, and the Secretary of State should be given a general power of inspection to satisfy himself that a reasonable standard of efficiency is being maintained”

Later, in 1936, following the publication of the report, probation had their first inspector of probation. During the second world war there were only two inspectors, a man, and a woman. By the close of the 1940s, probation had ten inspectors on their books and in 1950, their first chief probation inspector, F.J. MacRae.

In 1958, MacRae, published an article in January edition of The British Journal of Delinquency titled The English Probation Training system in which he said:

“Without being a trained psychologist, the probation officer should have sufficient knowledge of psychological methods to enable him to detect cases which would benefit from expert diagnoses and to follow up any line of treatment recommended by the specialist; such knowledge may also assist him to exercise in the most effective way his own personal influence”

MacRae as cited in Gard, R. (2014). Rehabilitation and Probation in England and Wales, 1876-1962. United Kingdom: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Throughout the fifties to the start of the new millennium, I would suggest that the growth of people being given probation, or community orders did not match the growth in staffing numbers. It was inevitable probation could not and did not be the service it should have been. The seventies would see the first assessment tools being used for risk of custody and risk of reoffending. By the year 2000, for me, when the probation service was renamed the National Probation Service, they had become an agent of the police and courts rather than be there to support the person on probation. They were more akin to a risk management company.

Michael Howard

I have come to the belief that it all began to go wrong for probation, in fact, the criminal justice system itself, on May 27, 1993. The day Michael Howard became home secretary. Put it this way, the average prison population in 1993 was 44,246 and by the end of Howard’s tenure as home secretary on May 2, 1997, following the defeat by Labour of the Tories in that year’s general election, the average population of prison was 61,100. Of those, just over one hundred were people in prison on a recall. Between 1996 – 1997 “Remand prisoners increased by 4 percent to 12,100. The average number of female inmates increased 19 percent from 2,260 in 1996 to 2,680 in 1997. Young offenders increased by 12 percent from 9,660 in 1996 to an average of 10,810 in 1997. Minorities made up 19 percent of the total inmate population” (

I think the less said about the disastrous ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ and probation as a service between 2004 up until last year the better. That period, for me, was the worse period of probations existence. However, with probation becoming, once again, known as The Probation Service I hope we can begin to move on from that period whilst taking on board the lessons learnt.

I’m excited about the future of The Probation Service, as it once again becomes a tool to reduce reoffending.

In conclusion, I’ve said on numerous occasions that, George Ansell, my first probation officer was more like a member of my extended family and researching to write about the history of probation has given me the reasons why. Probation, back then, was more about the individual. I can also see why I received so many chances from the magistrates in juvenile court as I was sentenced to this order and that order before I made them run out of options but to send me to detention centre, my first time in custody, 1985.

I’m not saying I’ve ever been treated bad by probation, back then I was clearly treated extremely well, but one thing we never did was to find the underlying cause(s) of my behaviour. Yet, I can remember, so vividly, all the different programmes where I learnt so much about so much, but I never learnt about myself and I’m confident probation didn’t learn anything about me either, other than for most of our four-decade relationship that I was ‘challenging and disruptive’. I do have to admit, they did try. I may not want to ever live the life I once did, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

It is what it is!

2 thoughts on “The History of Probation – Part three

  1. A fascinating if depressing section showing where it went wrong David. Always thought probation is so important but undervalued and underfunded, and it was a great history and a positive note on which you ended!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Ray. If it becomes the service it once was before, I envisage a much better relationship between the practitioner and the person under probation which potentially will lead to a large reduction in reoffending, fewer victims and safer communities as a result 🙏


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s