Negotiating Probation Work: Process and Structure in the Construction of Probation Officer Recommendations

Jason Clark-Miller, Montana State University

Despite an impressive body of research and a great deal of agreement on the factors associated with legal outcomes, relatively few studies have focused on the interplay of organizational directives and day-to-day realities that probation officers must negotiate when handling cases and recommending sanctions. Past research regarding the organization of juvenile court was typically guided by rational-bureaucratic theories and positivst methodologies, and proceeded on the assumption that conceptions of the organization's purpose are uncritically accepted and reproduced by the organization's members, including probation officers. Using data derived from a two year ethnographic study of a juvenile court, my research pays particulat attention to the institutional context in which meanings of delinquency are constructed and understood by probation officers, and how these meanings shape the probation officers' recommendations to the court. Rather than following the traditional rational[bureaucratic models, I draw on Strauss' "negotiated order" perspective to address questions of how organizational demands are constructed and implemented in the face of ambiguity and competing requirements.

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Updated 05/20/2006