What Works in Probation: A House Built on Sand?

George Mair, Liverpool John Moores University

The `What Works' or `Effective Practice' initiative dominates current probation practice in England and Wales. It has become institutionalised in a very short time as the only effective way of working with offenders. As such, it should have strong foundations. This paper discusses the origins and conditions of emergence of the `What Works' initiative in an effort to unpick the monolith and expose its foundations. It is argued that, despite the claims made for `What Works' its foundations are weak. The paper goes on to examine the current context in which `What Works' is being implemented in the National Probation Service; (NPS) and again the argument is that this context is not especially conducive to the successful implementation of a national initiative. While `What Works' is set to determine to a considerable degree the future of the NPS, it can also be seen as the first significant demonstration of the authority of the National Probation Directorate and exemplifies one aspect of the centralised disciplinary control of the probation service; the other two aspects being financial control and training arrangements, both of which are intimately linked to the `What Works' agenda.

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Updated 05/20/2006