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Offender management and rehabilitation

The future of probation

Curved bookshelves filled with books stand in a library. Overlaid is text which reads "Justice literature reviews - commissioned rehabilitative services".

This paper was written by Marilyn Gomes from Cambridge University, Sunaina Kanda from Catch22, and Jody Audley from Catch22



The future of probation holds both hope and hurdles. Research over the past few decades has demonstrated that prosocial and strength-based approaches, such as those adopted by probation, are promising for reintegrating offenders into the community and helping them desist. However, obstacles, such as high workloads and a shortage of probation officers, continue to hinder the delivery of effective and individualised rehabilitation (Howson, 2020).

The aim of probation is to support offenders both during and after their sentence (Justice Committee, 2011). Shifting from the punitive mantra of ‘Nothing Works’ (Martinson, 1974) to the government looking at ‘What Works,’ the 2015 establishment of the National Probation Service was a core aspect of the ‘Rehabilitation Revolution.’: a governmental programme introduced to drastically transform the management of people on probation under a rehabilitative ethos, rather than the previous punitive stance. It thus aimed to provide greater support to offenders both in custody and in the community. Despite this, risk management remains a substantial issue for both the NPS and Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs), with the provision of accommodation being a major concern seeing that over 11,000 prisoners face homelessness annually. Nonetheless, early signs of improvement are visible – an additional £150 million has been invested by the government in probation in 2020/2021, and an extra £22 million per year for CRCs has significantly improved Through the Gate services for released prisoners, with eight out of ten rated as ‘outstanding’ in their quality of work (HM Inspectorate of Probation, 2019).

Another large shift in probation services occurred during its unification in 2021. A new model was implemented in England and Wales in which low and medium risk offenders, previously managed by subcontracted organisations, were absorbed into the National Probation Service that handled high risk offenders (Millings et al., 2023). Millings et al. conducted interviews with probation staff about their opinions on the unification. The paper was titled “necessary, but painful” which was encapsulated in the paper by reporting that many probation staff felt unification was the right thing to do and commented that, long-term, it will be beneficial. However, this unification has resulted in many staff members feeling “underpaid and overstretched”, leading to severe staff retention concerns. This in turn led to less continuity of care for the people on probation as they may be passed between several probation officers during their journey to desistance, provoking re-traumatisation and the inability to develop a rapport and trust with their probation officer.

The probationary period acts as the gateway between imprisonment and reintegration, marking it as a crucial and bidirectional aspect of an offender’s journey – the intersection where the choice between reoffending or pursuing desistance is made. For this reason, it is imperative to analyse both historical and current rehabilitative approaches to understand which strategies would be most effective in the future. Consequently, this literature review will: examine the changes of an offender’s criminogenic needs within the Criminal Justice System (CJS); analyse what contributes to recidivism, as well as the development of desistance and prosocial identities; and evaluate how strengths-based rehabilitation approaches can assist with probation. Overall, these sections will emphasise the important role of probation in developing prosocial and individualised interventions. Such strategies are essential in enabling smooth reintegration and, consequently, reducing recidivism.

Changes in an individual’s criminogenic needs within the criminal justice system

Criminogenic needs are dynamic attributes related to offenders and their circumstances which can influence the probability of recidivism (Andrews & Bonta, 1998). Criminogenic needs derive from the Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) model, which has the core principles of who to target (risk), what should be done (need), and how the work should be delivered (responsibility) (HM Inspectorate of Probation, 2020). Its effectiveness has made it the leading offender assessment model used globally (ibid.). Needs which derive from the RNR model may include pro-offending attitudes, substance abuse, and impulsiveness – all aspects of antisocial behaviour which can be described as ‘dynamic.’ Data derived from the Offender Assessment System presents eight criminogenic needs linked to offending behaviour: accommodation, employability, relationships, lifestyle, drug misuse, alcohol misuse, thinking and behaviour, and attitudes (Ministry of Justice, 2022). However, individual criminogenic needs can evolve over time, influenced by various factors including age, life experiences, and societal interactions (Laub & Sampson, 2003). Adolescence-limited offenders typically outgrow their criminal behaviour as they mature and face new responsibilities (Farrington, 1986). In contrast, life-course persistent offenders – those whose criminal behaviour continues into adult life – may continue criminal activities due to more deep-seated issues and may require ongoing, tailored interventions within the CJS (Laub & Sampson, 2003). Such ongoing interventions could address more underlying issues such as psychological issues or substance abuse. These are factors which should be considered at each stage of an offender’s journey. The offender’s journey can be broken down into five key stages (Ball et al., 2014): entry, or re-entry; custody; release; supervision; resettlement.

Ball et al. (2014) emphasise the prisoner’s “common experience of a broken journey” in which the journey through each stage is not linear or irreversible. Ball et al. also emphasises supervision having a vital role in re-establishing successful journeys. Though this review focuses on the probationary period, it is important to understand how criminogenic needs within the five key stages develop.

Entry, or re-entry for repeat offenders

In the entry/re-entry stage, offenders usually are presented with immediate emotional, practical, social, and relationship concerns (ibid.). The stress of arrest may even exacerbate pre-existing issues, such as substance abuse or antisocial tendencies (Andrews & Bonta, 1998). While there would undoubtedly be concerns about one’s accommodation and family, much of the concern is introspective. For example, offenders may contemplate the potential waste of their life in prison, while some might even consider it a preferable environment to their previous circumstances (Ball et al., 2014). This highlights that the initial stage is complex and may need a tailored approach in understanding what criminogenic needs an offender may need to focus on. Holistic interventions that address multiple criminogenic needs are more likely to be effective in reducing offending due to the multiple problems offenders face (Sapouna et al., 2011). This may be because holistic interventions address interconnected underlying issues and recognise how they may interact with each other and influence positive outcomes if not considered concurrently. Subsequently, the task is about finding what is effective for that specific individual. Hence, personalised assessments and interventions are vital for tackling an offender’s most pressing, or possibly underlying, needs.


The custodial period for a prisoner can be met by the juxtaposition of both opportunity and frustration; while some prisoners see this period as one where they can rebuild themselves, many prisoners – especially those receiving little support – may feel aimless. Walters (2003) outlines that being imprisoned, and the negative psychological effects of imprisonment, can change needs by exacerbating antisocial and criminal thinking styles of prisoners. At the same time, this custodial period offers a potential opportunity for rehabilitation through programmes targeting substance use, employment, and other personal needs (Wooditch, Tang, & Taxman, 2014). However, the effectiveness of such programmes could vary depending on sentence length. A recent statistic from the Ministry of Justice (2023) reveals that 55% of those given a short custodial sentence reoffend within a year. While this demonstrates the limited effectiveness of short prison sentences, it also suggests they may not provide adequate time to effectively manage a prisoner’s criminogenic needs nor address them thoroughly. Furthermore, it reinforces Walters’ (2003) assertion that the psychological impact of imprisonment on prisoners can be harmful, but there may not be ample time to improve their psychological needs. This calls for either focused rehabilitation programmes for those in custody, or more effective rehabilitation programmes upon release to prevent recidivism, which will be looked at in more detail later in this review. Hence, correctly identifying and addressing criminogenic needs, at the sentence stage, is a vital precursor to post-release life.


It is from release onwards where challenges intensify, as this is where all criminogenic needs would accumulate. More specifically, challenges associated with re-entering society such as accommodation, employment, and social reintegration. In other words, while criminogenic needs were more focused on the individual’s inner emotions upon entry and custody, prisoner’s needs shift to becoming more socio-economic upon release. The change from a structured prison environment to relative freedom can be overwhelming, especially when individuals navigate the renewal of relationships, such as re-establishing family and social relationships. As Ball et al. (2014) highlight, the dynamics of these relationships can significantly influence an individual’s path after release. Successfully tackling these challenges can reduce the likelihood of reoffending. Conversely, failure to do so could exacerbate criminogenic needs.


The fourth stage, supervision, is a key component of probation. Langan and Levin (2002) note that the first year of supervision is crucial, as the first year is when an offender’s recidivism risk is higher. Byrne (2009) further emphasises targeting supervision on higher-risk individuals at higher-risk times, suggesting that understanding and meeting the changing criminogenic needs during this period can significantly reduce the likelihood of reoffending. While the first year of supervision is accordingly pivotal, the entire supervision period is still full of hurdles that can either promote stability or lead to reoffending. Stable housing, employment, and compliance with licence conditions are key areas where an individual’s criminogenic needs can be addressed or worsened. Hence, initiatives which lead to employment and social reintegration can significantly improve criminogenic needs (Ball et al., 2014).

While supervision focuses on compliance and rehabilitation, it is also essential to understand its impact over time, as explored by Schlager and Pacheco (2011). Schlager and Pacheco examined the change in LSI-R scores – a score which calculates recidivism risk – during an individual’s time in the CJS. Their study focused on an American community-based corrections programme and examined data points at two different time periods: entry into the programme and six months later. They found that offenders on parole changed significantly over these six months. The most substantial score decrease was in the educational and employment subcomponent, underlining that offenders were most successful in finding employment/entering education to help them socially reintegrate. Interestingly, the area where their criminogenic needs did not change were substance use and emotional well-being. This is perplexing as all the participants had been on an inpatient drug treatment programme. Perhaps this implies that these criminogenic needs take longer to tackle, and short-term treatment is not effective in addressing them. However, as only two data points were used, it is not possible to determine at what point changes had begun to manifest, and the process in which these changes occurred. Nevertheless, this study stipulates that some needs may require short-term targeted programmes, whereas other needs – particularly emotional and substance use- related – require longer-term intervention to produce enduring positive outcomes.

It is also important to acknowledge that intensive supervision and control may have an adverse impact. Blagden and Winder (2023) explain that control narratives are an approach to risk management that favour intense community monitoring, supervision, and threat of sanctions, such as recall, as a method of supressing criminality and protecting society. However, control narratives have generally failed to impact recidivism rates significantly, and there is little evidence to suggest they contribute to meaningful behavioural change (Maruna and Lebel, 2003). Moreover, there is limited evidence to prove that intense community supervision prevents future criminal behaviour (de Valk et al., 2015). These methods are still used by probation services, despite their limited effectiveness, perhaps because they may be less demanding to enact in the short-term and they are more cost-effective than training staff to manage risk less intensely. Consequently, intense supervision tends to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach and does not aim to work with the person on probation with an individualised action plan. The limited evidence supporting control narratives emphasises the importance of differentiating them from needs-based narratives; tackling an offender’s needs should be a collaborative and person-led effort rather than an imposing one.


Resettlement, the final stage, is where a prisoner reintegrates into society. Yet, as Ball et al. (2014) state, “some prisoners cannot see beyond the prison gate,” alluding to obstacles in long-term planning caused by psychological burdens and societal challenges. For many, visualising a life beyond the CJS is challenging. Long-term support, even beyond formal supervision, might be necessary to address persistent criminogenic needs and prevent reoffending (ibid.). Additionally, individual differences, including social and internal factors, can significantly influence the ease of reintegration. The hope of the resettlement stage is to prevent recidivism and facilitate desistance. Thus, an individual’s criminogenic needs must be considered in light of wider social contexts.

Social factors that lead to recidivism

Social factors can substantially impact how likely an individual is to reoffend and the large variety of such factors can complicate pinpointing specific causes of recidivism. While numerous social factors lead to reoffending, this section will focus on the key contributing factors proposed by research.

Peer and social network influence

Peer influence is a highly addressed social factor in literature. Wooditch & Taxman (2014) assert that close relations with deviant peers and isolation from prosocial peers can increase likelihood of criminal involvement. Heavy peer influence is particularly prevalent among youth as they are more likely to join street-level gangs and engage in violent behaviour which can lead to reoffending. One explanation for this is that pre-existing social relationships and violent experiences create bonds of trust which subsequently lead to involvement in criminal activities (Densley & Stevens, 2015). It would be difficult to leave such affiliation without fearing being harmed, especially for young people who are more impressionable and more vulnerable. This difficulty is often heightened if they lack positive role models in their lives. As a result, young people influenced by gangs often reoffend. This correlation is supported by findings from the Serious Violence Strategy (2018), which attributes rising youth violence to county lines drugs gangs and social media that glamorises gang life. Consequently, youth affiliations with gangs can normalise antisocial behaviours, such as aggression and weapon carrying.

Family and relational ties

The influence of family and relational ties is another factor which can have a positive impact on an individual’s journey of desistance. Cid and Marti’s (2015) study in Spain revealed that an offender’s family can provide strong social support which would have a beneficial impact on preventing recidivism. While much of this support is often emotional and financial, an interesting motivation for change influenced by family is that they “viewed their own change primarily as a moral duty to compensate for the support that they had received” (ibid.). This suggests that the likelihood of recidivism can be significantly impacted by the emotional bond an offender has with their family i.e. a stronger emotional connection tends to increase the offender’s motivation to change. It follows that family and relational ties can have a dual-natured impact, as social bonds which are conditioned by prior criminal involvement can adversely increase the likelihood of reoffending (Cobbina et al., 2012). This is especially the case if an individual has experienced difficulties in their childhood, deprivation, and exposure to violence or drugs.

Leisure and community

The influence of family and relational ties can be associated with leisure and community engagement. Mahoney & Stattin (2000) found that participation in highly structured leisure activities was linked to low levels of antisocial behaviour, while involvement in low-structured activities, such as a youth recreation centre, was associated with higher levels. The combination of involvement in a low structured activity and the absence of any highly structured participation appeared especially problematic for boys’ antisocial behaviour. Participants in low-structured activities were also characterised by deviant peer relations, poor parent-child relations, and they received low support from their activity leader in comparison to the adolescents engaged in more structured community activities. Nonetheless, it is important to consider that children from lower class backgrounds may have less ability to get involved in structured activities due to their cost (Cantor et al., 2022). While they may be able to engage in some free leisure activities, these would be low structured, hence increasing the likelihood for antisocial behaviour as Mahoney & Stattin’s study illustrates. While increasing structured community activities for those from poorer backgrounds is beyond the scope of probation services, it can act as a guide on approaching adults on probation. For example, rehabilitation programmes that are more highly structured, goal-oriented, and emphasise the need of having a good relationship with probation officers could help reduce recidivism. It also suggests that the implementation of more leisurely-based activities for individuals on probation could help an individual develop more positive social attitudes which could thereby prevent recidivism.

Offender’s sex

The effect of social factors on offenders can also vary based on their sex, as highlighted by a 2012 study from Van der Knaap et al.. This study focused on a large sample of 16,239 male and female offenders. Accommodation, education, work, and relationships with friends were more positively correlated to recidivism in men than in women. On the other hand, difficulties with emotional well-being, which could encompass mental health issues, had stronger positive correlations for women than men. One interpretation of this could be that men’s propensity to reoffend heavily depends on external factors, namely economic and wider social impacts. In contrast, women’s likelihood to reoffend is a more internal process, influenced by their psychological state. This difference in the needs of the sexes requires further investigation, as literature heavily focuses on male offenders. Nevertheless, this difference is also one which should be considered by probation officers when developing strategies to prevent recidivism to provide tailored support which can produce more effective outcomes.

Ultimately, a more holistic and personalised approach is needed during an offender’s probationary period; one that considers each offender’s specific social context.

Characteristics of individuals who successfully desist from further offending

Desistance is deemed to be the opposite of recidivism; it is the process of refraining from criminal behaviour by individuals who had previously been involved in a recurring pattern of offending. A summary by the Scottish Government (2015) proposes that desistance may naturally occur as an individual gets older, desistance rates differ between sexes, and relational links have a central role in promoting desistance. However, solely identifying social factors that encourage desistance is not sufficient as an individual’s own desire for change is perhaps the driving force behind successful desistance.

Research suggests that desistance tends to occur naturally, following an ‘age-crime curve.’ This has been studied by tracking the age of beginning criminal activity, whether this offending persists, and how long these criminal careers last (Carlsson and Sarnecki, 2016). What this indicates is that lengths of desistance vary by age and can be compartmentalised into two groups (Moffit, 1993): adolescent-limited offenders and life-course persistent offenders. Focusing on adolescent-limited offenders, in a study by Laub and Sampson (2003), a longitudinal age-crime curve was depicted, with the mean number of offences spiking at approximately 1.4 at age 17-18, to suddenly decreasing to below 0.6 once a person enters their 20s. This reveals that offending spikes during teenage years, but almost naturally decreases when a person enters adulthood (Farrington, 1986). Addressing life-course persistent offenders, offending begins much earlier in their lives and does not seem to die down during early adulthood. Their persistence in offending could be due to a range of factors, ranging from environmental influences to developmental issues; however, a lack of early intervention could also facilitate their long lasting criminal career, highlighting the need for probation services to emphasise early intervention efforts. Furthermore, adolescence-limited offenders have more prosocial skills than life-course persistent offenders (Laub and Sampson, 2001). Understanding why some naturally desist while others need assistance is essential in pinpointing effective strengths-based desistance strategies.

For individuals who wish to desist, there is a common thread – in the early stages of desistance, such individuals are “preoccupied with ‘becoming normal,’ and their goals are more likely to revolve around finding conventional roles in work and family life” (Healy, 2013). These concerns with adhering to convention gradually form a distinct self-identity separate from their previous offender identity. This implies that desistance can be an internal psychological process which is often influenced by societal expectations that are placed on an individual. The process of becoming ‘normal’ is ultimately a euphemism for “moving from offending to successful social integration” (Kirkwood & McNeil, 2015), linking to their development of a prosocial identity. Probation staff can encourage an individual going through this process by prosocial modelling, in which they act as a role model for the person on probation and can advise them on how to re-integrate into society effectively.

The presence of a personal desire to change, as well as the need for a support system, is apparent in a study conducted by Davis, Bahr & Ward (2013), which investigated prisoners’ perceptions of what helps them re-enter society. After studying 16 offenders, they identified six factors which influence an offender’s ability to reintegrate and desist from crime: substance abuse, employment, family support, types of friends, personal motivation to change, and age. Drug abuse was reported to be a major contributor to their criminal activities. To add, most offenders stated that support from family, friends and treatment services were important for successful reintegration. Thus, interpersonal ties are also central in defining those who desist from further offences, as family connections strengthen the individual’s self-image as a contributing member of society and thereby aid them in reintegrating (Giordano, Cernkovich & Rudolph, 2002). Relational ties and treatment services can enable the development of a prosocial identity, which will be discussed next.

Approaches that enable the development of a prosocial identity

Prosocial behaviour was described as early as 1982 by Eisenberg to refer to “actions which simply benefit others”. A development of a prosocial identity involves an individual considering oneself as a person who contributes positively to society and values the well-being of others. Ellis (2009) suggests viewing the development of a prosocial identity as a social project as it would help an offender move to critical engagement and social action through finding commonalities with the wider world. The development of a prosocial identity and decline in offending go together, meaning that this positive change in identity is needed for effective desistance (Copp et al., 2020). Yet, whilst a change in identity seems to be a rather internal process, being left alone to manage oneself is not an effective method in promoting a prosocial identity (Dorkins & Adshead, 2011). This means that, as described earlier, desistance may require a personal desire to change. However, a personal desire alone is often not enough in taking on a prosocial identity since developing prosocial behaviour is contingent on collaborative interactions with others. Consequently, probation practitioners should balance hope and realism in their interventions to facilitate a significant identity shift for service users, ensuring that each individual’s narrative is understood within the broader context of the diverse society they are reintegrating into (ibid.). this is often facilitated in rehabilitation organisations through the use of SMART goals. SMART goals (Doran, 1981) stipulate requirements of goal setting that increase one’s chances of reaching those goals. It is key in this theory that one can set their own goals, they just need to make sure they are achievable and specific. Research is lacking regarding the implementation of SMART goals in probation support, so it is unclear whether this is required in the future of probation, but it is easily identifiable that the development of an individual’s prosocial identity is nearly always a collaborative effort since it is highly influenced by societal culture and environment.

McNeil and Weaver (2010) remark that rebuilding ties with positive links can help an individual to develop a new prosocial identity. As they put it, ex-offenders can “develop a coherent prosocial identity for themselves” when they transition across socio-economic, familial, and environmental domains relating to shifts in identity over their life course. This can subsequently increase a person’s sense of self, reflect changing motivations, and demonstrate greater concern for others. But what are examples of these social links? Just like the desistance process, shifting away from the influence of negative peer affiliations can also help facilitate the development of a prosocial identity (Giordano, Cernkovich & Holland, 2006). Good family relationships have been shown to help men with histories of frequent unemployment, acting as a protective factor to insulate them from criminal influences, as well as providing emotional support to mechanise the identity change process (Berg & Heubner, 2011). The desire to change is especially evident among women who have shown strong motivation to change and displayed efforts to create distance from their past (Morsah et al., 2020). Any form of social activity, even something seemingly unrelated like cooking, has been proven to be a beneficial approach in helping offender health and well-being (Parsons, 2017). This underlines that various forms of societal involvement – whether it be through positive peers, strong families, or participating in communal activities – can act as a vehicle of enabling a prosocial identity.

Even still, the obvious issue would sit with those offenders who may not have relational links to turn to or are met with associates who are not willing to support them. This is where the CJS can have a substantial impact on both desistance and enabling the development of a prosocial identity. McNeil et al. (2012) asserts that “most people stop offending sometimes, with or without interventions, and sometimes even in spite of them… [T]he practical challenge is to help them to do so more swiftly and certainly.” This suggests that individualised treatment may remain at the heart of encouraging desistance, but there is more the CJS can do. Currently, there is an issue of whether the CJS’s approaches to desistance are effective in practice. Research by Farrall (2002) and Shapland et al. (2012) demonstrates that those who have been supported in their desistance by probation staff rarely ascribed their success in desisting to them. This may be due to probation practice typically concentrating on risk issues rather than practically assisting individuals in overcoming the obstacles that hinder their desistance and can impact their welfare. This is puzzling, given that strong social and welfare support are effective in broader society – so why not through the CJS? The issue could be one of legitimacy (Beetham, 1991); offenders may have little faith in the CJS so naturally do not believe probation officers can adequately aid them in desisting and continue to view probation negatively even if they were supported.

A solution to encouraging desistance through the CJS is by implementing the wider idea of prosocial relationships into the CJS, which could be done by improving prosocial-based training for probation and prison officers. As a result, healthy, supervisory, and family-like relationships can be promoted through the CJS. This has been successful in practice: a study in Australia by Trotter (1993) reveals that reconviction rates of offenders who were supervised by prosocial officers, and who had healthier relationships, were much lower. On the other hand, 20 offenders who were supervised, but not necessarily by prosocial officers, had all doubted the fairness of the recall process during their probationary period (Digard, 2010). This comparison depicts that transferring the concepts of social-identity and strong relationships into the CJS by improving the training of probation and prison staff can positively encourage desistance, even for those with a long history of offending. Therefore, legitimising trust in the CJS, including probation staff, is imperative in encouraging desistance.

An example of successful prosocial development by the CJS can be seen through a study at HMP Thameside, London. Though ran by Catch22 rather than a probation service, the Offender Management Unit case managers and Gang Interventions Service (GIS) at HMP Thameside effectively fostered prosocial identity development among prisoners by using their experiences to develop previously distributed cell packs and create new material for prisoners to complete (Catch 22, 2021). The interventions used were tailored to each specific person’s needs using the R.O.A.D (Rehabilitation Offering Another Direction) programme, encouraging prisoners to consider and address consequences of their behaviour and look for a way to move forward or to consider alternative prosocial options and opportunities moving forward. Techniques employed included conflict resolution and ongoing one-on-one sessions. As staff were also non-operational, they could provide consistent support and a space to build trust. Consequently, 78% said that the GIS made them feel safer at HMP Thameside, while 77% said that the R.O.A.D. programme was helpful. Hence, emphasising personal growth and consistent support is critical for fostering prosocial identities and successfully desisting, which should be adopted by probation staff.

How strengths-based approaches can nurture positive attitudes to rehabilitation that guard against reoffending

Strengths-based approaches focus on an individual’s inherent strengths and positive traits, hoping that individuals can recognise their own value and develop a meaningful life based on the skills they already have. One of the models which uses this strength-based approach is the Good Lives Model (GLM). Drawing on positive psychology, the GLM offers a strength-based approach to rehabilitation with a focus on conceptualising a good life and taking all the individual’s strengths, relevant environments, and capacities to make choices for themselves. It builds on the RNR model, but also prescribes that everyone has similar life goals and needs. Consequently, if some individuals have a reduced ability to achieve these goals, they are more likely to offend (Ward & Marshall, 2007). The GLM seeks to identify an individual’s primary goods (personal characteristics and experiences which are beneficial) and secondary goods (the means of securing primary goods) to help an individual understand what values they have, which can nurture positive attitudes to rehabilitation. Resultantly, they can develop capabilities to achieve goals which are personal and meaningful to them. Focusing on skill development rather than solely on needs or risks is more likely to enhance compliance with their licence and encourages ex-offenders to achieve “earned redemption”: working to attain personal transformation and societal reintegration (McNeil and Weaver, 2010). Probation practitioners can develop an understanding of what strengths, values, and aspirations are most important to their service user to help influence them onto a more positive pathway and better long-term direction. It is this increase in service user engagement and motivation to change that makes the GLM an effective model, and its effectiveness has also been proven in reducing some people’s need to be involved in gang activities (Mallion & Wood, 2020). Therefore, this strengths-based approach can help achieve a better life against reoffending (Ward et al., 2007).

A 2023 study regarding adolescent boys using the GLM emphasised that offender rehabilitation should adopt a dual focus; reducing recidivism risk as well as enhancing the offender’s well-being (Serie et al., 2023). The study involved semi-structured interviews with 20 Flemish and Dutch boys, exploring their well-being, needs, goals, treatment motivation, and views on recidivism and rehabilitation. The findings indicate that aligning the boys’ well-being needs with their treatment goals can significantly improve their treatment motivation and overall rehabilitation efforts. Additionally, factors such as increased freedom, a future prosocial perspective and working on individual factors, such as school or work skills, and relationships with prosocial friends and family positively impact treatment motivation. Despite this, a key issue with this study, and general use of the GLM, is that participants are susceptible to answer in a way they thought was acceptable or favourable rather than being truthful. Consequently, the GLM model is often criticised for the lack of empirical evidence it produces (Wormith et al., 2012).

Even still, strength-based models still yield more positive results than traditional RNR models, such as Core SOTPs (Sex Offender Treatment Programme), as can be demonstrated in the case of sex offenders. Traditional interventions have shown minimal positive effects and sometimes higher recidivism rates for treated sex offenders, with 8% for untreated and 10% for treated (Mews, Di Bella & Purver, 2017). The challenges in measuring the success of traditional models and the evolving understanding of offender psychology indicate that strength-based approaches might be more effective. By encouraging positive self-identity and recognising cognitive strategies as aids in desistance, these methods might better support rehabilitation and reduce reoffending. This shift towards strength-based rehabilitation underscores the need for dynamic, individualised programmes that leverage personal strengths and cognitive strategies. Such approaches not only align with contemporary psychological insights but also promise a more constructive and potentially more effective path to reducing recidivism among offenders.

New models, such as Kaizen and Horizon, have been developed from GLM to help rehabilitate offenders convicted of violent or sexual offences. By focusing on creating skills for prosperity and developing a positive identity, strengths-based programmes aim to humanise individuals and support their journey beyond the reduction of symptoms and risks. This approach recognises the individual’s potential for growth and the importance of personal goals in the rehabilitation process. Both Kaizen and Horizon can help in nurturing positive attitudes towards rehabilitation by empowering individuals with a sexual conviction to redefine their identities and strive for a meaningful, prosocial life post-release. Although data on the long-term effectiveness of these interventions is still emerging (Marshall, Marshall, & Olver, 2017), the programmes’ focus on personal strengths and aspirations is promising in reducing reoffending. This has profound implications for the probation service in the future as the rehabilitative focus can go beyond mere risk management and actively promote positive identity development.

Nevertheless, strength-based approaches are a long-term investment which would require many resources. This can face practical challenges due to a “chronic” staff shortage in probation officers (HM Inspectorate of Probation, 2022). Up to half of key positions are unfilled in some areas, leading to unmanageable workloads and inadequate supervision. This has resulted in poor quality probation supervision, with 60% of cases being unsatisfactory in managing public risk (ibid.). This “chronic” staff shortage has also been proven detrimental, as inexperienced staff made a fundamental error by classifying Damien Bendall, who committed murder and domestic violence, as posing a low risk of harm to partners and to children (Pidd, 2023). This classification error not only poses a risk to the public during a serious offender’s social reintegration, but also for the offender to receive the relevant form of intervention. Therefore, while strengths-based approaches are promising in theory, transferring this to probation services would necessitate hiring more staff for more individualised interventions.

The role of the third sector in the future of probation

As mentioned in the beginning, whilst the future of probation has hope, the hurdles are also rampant. The chronic staff shortage, inadequate pay and severe staff burnout is preventing people on probation from receiving the care they need. Despite this, probation can be supported by external organisations as the unification now permits them to refer their cases to third sector organisations for regular sessions, reducing their own workloads. So, how can organisations such as ours support the future of probation?

Catch22’s Commissioned Rehabilitative Services (CRS) provide interventions to adult men on probation in personal wellbeing, finance, benefit and debt, and dependency and recovery. CRS works very closely with probation, as they receive their referrals directly from the probation officer. Catch22 can therefore support with the caseloads by allowing them to see us on a regular basis instead of the officer, freeing the probation officer up to see other people on probation. This also then enables the service user to build rapport that they may have struggled to build when moving between many probation officers, providing them with a more solid support system and reducing risk of re-traumatisation. Catch22 can also enable wraparound care as they also have several established referral and signposting routes with other organisations, who can support the individual with employment, housing, or finding hobbies.

Outside of CRS, Catch22 runs an Offender Management Unit in HMP Thameside and is the only Third Sector Organisation in the country to do so. A major upside to this is that Catch22’s OMU staff are non-operational, meaning they will not be suddenly dispatched to another area of the prison. This coalesces with the benefits of CRS by permitting continuity of care, enabling rapport, and reducing re-traumatisation from repeating their story to many different staff members. There is a wealth of feedback from prisoners and prison staff alike that Catch22’s OMU is run effectively. As can be found on Catch22’s website, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons stated that Catch22’s OMU “was the best provision I had seen during the last year”. This is relatable to the future of probation by proposing another method in which the workload of probation could be passed onto others: more and more third-sector organisations could control the management of offenders in prison and only pass them onto probation upon release. Therefore, the future of probation may depend on third sector organisations to support with their overwhelming caseloads.

Compared to providing probation with direct caseload support by taking on some of their caseloads, Catch22 can also support probation with information and training. Catch22 delivers CPD-certified training to professionals across England on Gang Awareness and understanding violence in young people. This training covers gang culture, activity, key warning signs, the link between child exploitation and later vulnerabilities, and much more. At present these trainings have been delivered to professionals in schools, staff in GPs, care homes, housing organisations and many more. Given that probation officers work with gang members regularly, this would be a very beneficial training for those working in probation to develop more skills around influences on the grooming line into gangs, how adverse childhood experiences influence one’s inclination to enter a gang, as well as successfully engaging service users, safeguarding and associated risk and more in-depth intervention training.


Ultimately, the past few decades have seen substantial progress in understanding criminogenic needs of offenders, as well as facilitating smoother social reintegration. However, practical challenges, mainly shortages in probation staff and gaps in understanding, persist. The rehabilitative path undertaken by the CJS has demonstrated more promising results compared to punitive approaches of the past, and this success calls for a reconsideration on the actual purpose of prisons – to punish or to rehabilitate, with the chief inspector of prison in England and Wales advocating for the latter. It is also important to consider that, while addressing probation issues could lead to more effective rehabilitation programmes within prisons and post-release, the actual impact of increased staffing on outcomes is yet to be examined. By assimilating past lessons and adopting holistic, individualised approaches, the future of probation can go beyond social control and supervisory ideologies. Instead, it can provide a genuine opportunity for offenders to successfully reintegrate into society and redefine their identities if managed effectively.

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