It is middle management’s responsibility to work most closely with the internal functioning of the Probation Service, but they also work at the meeting point of the different pressures from the external environment of the Service. The probation officer acts in a world that is marked by intractable and complex social problems, and with clients who by and large suffer from disadvantage and deprivation. His \ her training as a social worker (oh dear – rather dated reflection these days! – ed) places a high value on the capacity for empathy with the feelings of the clients. In the work, s/he is required to ‘befriend’ the clients and in the court setting, must attempt to understand and interpret the offenders’ behaviour and life experience. As I have indicated, this job cannot be done without powerful emotions being aroused, and it is to middle management that these emotions are most immediately brought.
From the other direction, as it were, comes the experience of the Chief Officers. This paper is written at a time when the pressures on senior management are particularly forceful. The developing interest of central government in limiting the scope of governmental activity, particularly through the criteria of cost effectiveness, has begun to make its impact on the Probation Service. Paradoxically, limiting the scope of government appears to require increased central control over various areas of government. So central government seeks ‘a planned and coordinated response to the whole problem of crime’, and to this end has issued a ‘statement of national purpose and objectives’ for the Probation Service. The impact of this development is making itself felt in the Service, and again the pressure is brought to middle management who must be responsible for relating policy to the operational practice of probation officers.
An examination of the way in which middle management responds to these pressures is therefore a potentially fruitful way of illuminating the exercise of control and power throughout the Probation Service, and of understanding how the Service can foster creative and effective work with offenders.