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The place of the officer-offender relationship in assisting offenders to desist from crime

Burnett, R. and McNeill, Fergus (2005) The place of the officer-offender relationship in assisting offenders to desist from crime. Probation Journal, 52 (3). pp. 221-242. ISSN 0264-5505

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For decades, the relationship between the officer and offender (variously labelled as the ‘casework relationship’, the ‘supervisory relationship’ or ‘one-to-one work’) was the main channel for probation service interventions. In the modernized probation service in England and Wales, this relationship element has been marginalized, on a policy level at least, by accredited groupwork programmes and case management approaches involving referrals to specialist and other services. However, there are now promising signs that policy makers are re-instating the ‘relationship’ between the practitioner and offender as a core condition for changing the behaviour and social circumstances associated with recidivism. This article traces the factors behind the paradigm shift from casework (in its broadest sense) to case management (more recently termed ‘offender management’) in order to identify why an element of practice once regarded as vital became discredited. It then briefly draws on findings in the mental health field and desistance research to relocate the relationship element within a practice model that is focused on supporting desistance from crime.