This paper explores the difficulties that arise for probation agencies or those that deliver community sanctions in developing and maintaining their credibility in prevailing ‘late-modern’ social conditions. It begins by questioning the limits of the pursuit and promise of ‘public protection’ as a source of credibility, and then proceeds to examine the emergence of an alternative strategy – based principally on reparation and ‘payback’ – in Scotland, arguing that these Scottish developments have much to say to the emerging debates in England and Wales (and elsewhere) about the ‘rehabilitation revolution’ and the proper use of imprisonment. The paper provides a critical account of the development and meaning of the Scottish version of ‘payback’, linking it to some important philosophical and empirical studies that may help to steer the development of payback away from a ‘merely punitive’ drift. In the conclusion, I argue that probation agencies and services need to engage much more deeply and urgently with their roles as justice services, rather than as ‘mere’ crime reduction agencies
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