• The Golden Age of Probation by Roger Statham - book cover

The Golden Age of Probation

Mission v Market

Edited by Roger Statham, Foreword by Alan Bennett


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The Golden Age of Probation is the first book on probation by those practitioners who became its leaders. A comprehensive account exploring culture, values and tensions. It looks at the dynamics of probation supervision and political dimensions, including the shift to a market-driven form of public service.

A lively and challenging collection of writings by those at the very heart of the Probation Service for 50-years. Complete with descriptions of life at all levels of what has been described as the ‘jewel in the crown’ of criminal justice. Moral and other challenges are presented alongside those of standing-up to government Ministers whose aspirations for ‘political immortality’ have led to profound tensions. The book describes how tough talk and market-strategies have undermined 100-years of devoted public service and ideas about how best to help change the lives of some of the most marginalised people in society. Equality, race and social deprivation are amongst the issues explored as the ethos of probation and its deeply-rooted values are laid bare in a book that deals with highs and lows, hazards, innovation, hopes, aims and the international influence of an organization whose original mission (not always popular) was to ‘advise, assist and befriend’ those otherwise heading for prison and a life of crime. Colourful and highly readable, The Golden Age of Probation takes the reader on a journey through England and Wales exposing social disadvantage, unrest and increasingly London-centric policies. It records first-hand what life was like for those at the sharp end during an era of extensive progress, development and change.


‘A timely resource because it revives historical memory on the origins and core principles of what probation should be’: Journal of Community Corrections.

‘A lived consciousness from a group of witnesses, reflectively composed by the supervisory and managerial guardians of a historico-cultural tradition within the criminal justice system that has been systematically dismantled by a petty politics of disavowal by governments since the 1990s … For those interested in plotting a recent history of probation and criminal justice transformation, this book provides personal testimony from those who occupied senior positions’: The Howard Journal.

‘We also hope all candidates for election in 2015 read this book and stop mucking up the criminal justice process further if elected’: Phillip Taylor MBE and Elizabeth Taylor of Richmond Green Chambers.

Editor & Contributors

After becoming a probation officer in Stoke-on-Trent in the 1960s the editor Roger Statham rose through the ranks to become Chief Probation Officer for Teesside. He is joint secretary of the Association of Retired Chief Probation Officers and Inspectors of Probation. The book contains contributions by 20 members and associates of that body.

The Foreword

The author, playwright and actor Alan Bennett contributed the Foreword after recording elsewhere his thoughts on certain responsibilities remaining in public hands: ‘The notion that probation, which is intended to help those who have fallen foul of the law, should make a profit for shareholders seems beyond satire.’ Diary, 2013. ‘The rewards of probation… are human profits and nothing to do with balance sheets.’ Cambridge Sermon, 2014.

From the book

‘The price of the semi-privatised probation estate… is that probation has lost its umbilical cord with the courts, the police, the prosecution service and our partners in local authorities. It will be difficult for the courts, in particular, to understand the transforming rehabilitation agenda when services for low and medium risk offenders will be carried out by an origami of commissioned enterprises, whose experience, for the most part, is in the private sector of running prisons, mostly in the USA, and whose staff may not necessarily have the qualifications to properly assess and supervise known offenders.’ John Harding CBE, Chapter 10.

‘Although the restructure made the service vulnerable to later changes through the 2000 Act, it did achieve better consistency, reduced costs in due course, more women at the top and a national programme of assessment and interventions that was internationally ground-breaking. The mistake in my view was to abandon this direction later that decade, combine with the Prison Service under the banner of offender management and sacrifice the national probation influence that had been gained. Because of the nature of the caseload with most offenders on community orders, we have always had more joint work with police and local authorities than with the Prison Service. Personalities and some bad judgements however got in the way.’ Mary Anne McFarlane, Chapter 14.

‘For the last three decades, probation just like health and education has been caught up in the dynamics and mechanisms of creating pseudo pseudo-markets to deliver public services. The underlying philosophy might appear to be simply to get the cost of these things off the government’s balance sheet but the structures created to do this are not transparent enough for a real assessment to be made of the true financial costs. At the same time organizational targets and protocols have helped stifle initiative and even the capacity to care.’ Roger Statham, Chapter 18.

Additional information

Weight344 g
Dimensions234 × 156 × 13 mm

Foreword author

Alan Bennett


Waterside Press




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Place of origin

United Kingdom

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