Understanding welfare practices : essays of involvement and detachment
The most familiar sociological image of the probation officer sees him firmly
committed to some variant of a psycho-pathological view of deviancy in which both
society and volition are disregarded. It was from this assumption that the research sprang,
the purpose being to examine the treatment ideologies held by probation officers. But
from focussed interviews, it was clear that explanations of deviancy offered by the
probation officers were wider than anticipated, encompassing both determinist and
voluntarist accounts of behaviour. It is suggested that the structural context of probation
work - utilitarian justice and casework treatment notions - creates more 'space' for
offering a greater variety of explanations than has often been appreciated. And, in offering
these explanations probation officers do not necessarily reinterpret their clients' accounts
which were somtimes accepted and at other times rejected.
How the cases were explained appear to depend on the circumstances of the case. The
more serious the offender's criminal history or his personal or social problems, the more
likely it was that the probation officer thought in determinist terms offering an 'action'
account. But equally, the respondents recognised the sometimes voluntary nature of
delinquency, though this was generally in less serious cases.