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Probation worker responses to turbulent conditions: constructing identity in a tainted occupation

By Rob C. Mawby and Anne Worrall

Abstract

Much has been written in England and Wales about the changing nature of work with offenders in the community, focusing primarily on the consequences of the political and managerialist pressures to which the probation service has been subjected in the past few decades. There has been little research, however, on probation workers themselves, their cultures and values and the extent to which these have changed. Drawing on funded research on the occupational cultures of probation workers, we explore the motivations, values and job expectations of present and former workers. Arguing that probation work is a ‘tainted’ or ‘dirty’ occupation and that the probation service operates in turbulent political, social and economic conditions, we consider how probation workers respond to these adverse circumstances to make their work meaningful and fulfilling, or just to cope. We propose that probation workers’ responses can be understood using Hirschman’s (1970) ‘exit, voice, loyalty, and neglect’ model, together with the later developments of ‘cynicism’ and ‘expedience’. However, these models of organizational behaviour do not capture the most controversial aspect of probation work, namely, that of voluntary risk-taking or ‘edgework’ (Lyng 1990). While probation workers may be generally regarded as being unlikely edgeworkers, we argue that it is possible to identify elements of edgework in probation work and that it is only by acknowledging this that we can obtain a complete picture of what it means to be a probation worker in an uncertain and potentially uncontrollable environment.Peer-reviewedPost-prin

Topics: probation, organizational cultures, edgework, criminal justice, dirty work
Publisher: SAGE on behalf of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology
Year: 2013
OAI identifier: oai:lra.le.ac.uk:2381/10956
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