Probation Workers and their Occupational Cultures

Researchers: Dr Rob Mawby and Professor Anne Worrall (Keele University)


In recent decades the demands on probation workers have changed dramatically, culminating in the creation of the National Offender Management Service in 2004. A great deal has been written about the historical and policy changes that have shaped the role of the probation officer, but there has been relatively little research on the changes to occupational cultures and the ways in which probation workers themselves experience the impact of changes to their role. Similarly there is little research on the relationships between probation workers and other criminal justice agencies that increasingly are encouraged to work more closely together under the umbrella of ‘offender management’.

This research project, funded by a grant of £76,601 from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), has attempted to fill these gaps by investigating the characteristics of contemporary probation cultures and by examining how probation workers construct their occupational identities. Rob and Anne conducted sixty interviews with current probation workers at different career stages and with former and retired probation workers. Following analysis of the interview data, the researchers presented their preliminary findings to an invited audience of probation workers, academics and criminal justice practitioners at a conference held at the University of Leicester’s conference centre in September 2011.  The project’s findings have also been disseminated through seminars at the Universities of Leicester, Keele, Manchester and Cambridge. Through this work, the research is making a contribution not only to the study of probation work but also to the body of knowledge on the occupational cultures of criminal justice practitioners.

The project was completed at the end of November 2011 and a report of key findings has been written. In addition to presenting the characteristics of probation cultures, the findings include that the probation service is now a feminised organisation in contrast to the position until the early 1990s when it was male-dominated. The implications of this for the organisation and offender management are far-reaching and by no means obvious. The report also notes that probation workers are multi-specialists who recognise the importance of inter-agency work and relish working alongside the courts, the police and the prison service (as well as other community organisations). The full report can be downloaded below, together with a paper which appeared in the September 2011 issue of the European Journal of Probation.


While the project funding has ended, Rob and Anne have continued their data analysis and three publications appeared in 2013.  A research monograph, ‘Doing Probation Work: Identity in a Criminal Justice Occupation’, was published in February by Routledge (see and an article, ‘Probation worker responses to turbulent conditions: constructing identity in a tainted occupation’  appears in volume 46, issue 1 of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology (see In addition, Rob and Anne contributed an article ‘Working with offenders: Someone has to do it … but not just anyone can’ to a special issue of the British Journal of Community Justice  that focuses on the Government’s ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ proposals.

The special issue is available at:

During 2014 Rob and Anne will be publishing an article in a special issue of Probation Journal entitled ‘Probation worker cultures and relationships with offenders’. They are also pleased that their monograph ‘Doing Probation Work’ will be published in paperback in August 2014 following positive reviews in leading criminology journals.


Available for downloading:
Mawby, R.C.  & Worrall, A. (2011) ‘They were very threatening about do-gooding bastards’: Probation’s changing relationships with the police and prison services in England and Wales’ European Journal of Probation, 3(3): 78-94. 

Mawby, R.C.  & Worrall, A. (2011) Probation Workers and their Occupational Cultures, Leicester: University of Leicester.  (Summary report of ESRC project findings)

Roberts, S. (2013)  ‘Sitting with judges, shaking hands with offenders’ InsideOUT, 15(3):4-5.  (An article in the magazine of the Government of Western Australia’s Department of Correctional Services). 

For further information about this research contact Rob Mawby

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