Naming the Offenders

In the wake of news from the Home Office that the Probation Service is to have a name change, what are some of the spirited responses to this controversial decision?

The decision by the Home Secretary to change the name of the Probation Service to the Community Punishment and Rehabilitation Service has been greeted with widespread criticism.

Among the high profile groups to have attacked the renaming are the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Association for Chief Officers of Probation.

No external design consultancies were involved in the organisation’s rebranding, with the new title generated in-house. A Home Office spokesman says the new identity is also likely to be developed within the department.

Defending the name change, Home Office minister Paul Boateng says: “The new name explains the CPRS’s purpose, signalling the way ahead for this vital service. The importance of its role in protecting the public, by effective supervision of offenders in the community to reduce reoffending, can’t be underestimated.

“The name also sends out a clear message to offenders that being under supervision in the community is not a reprieve or a soft option. The CPRS is a law enforcement agency and offenders must understand community penalties will make demands on them. If they don’t comply with the court’s community sentences, ultimately, this will result in breach action and possibly a custodial sentence,” he maintains.

The Association for Chief Officers of Probation represents the management within the Probation Service and is governed by the Home Office. It researched a possible name change for the Probation Service 18 months ago, concluding that the organisation should retain its original title.

Consequently, this latest development has been greeted with dismay by ACOP. “We conducted a MORI survey with focus groups, discussions with the general public and interviews with people working in the criminal justice system, which concluded that the name should not change,” says ACOP spokesman George Barrow. “Regarding the new name, we are happy punishment is balanced with rehabilitation, but the name is still not right. A misconception among policy-makers is that probation officers are social workers. There is no demand to be gratuitously tough. People want a constructive service.

“The call for vengeance and justice retribution is not strong. People want offenders held to account for their actions and want to know that the offender is not going to do it again,” he adds.

Barrow believes the solution to the naming crisis would be to rename the individual orders that are under the jurisdiction of the Probation Service, while keeping the original title.

“People would learn more about the service if a probation order was called ‘an enforced supervision order’ and a community service order was renamed an ‘enforced work order’, making it clear to the offender, victim and community.”

Last spring ACOP did further research in conjunction with design consultancy Interbrand Newell and Sorrell.

“We spent intensive time with the probation services in Hertfordshire and Manchester, as well as other people connected with the service at the Home Office, looking at the issues and questions of visual identity,” says INS director John Simmons. “We found many things needed changing, particularly the language, which is pretty bureaucratic.”

He adds that the new name is “counter-productive if it is changed just to send a political sound-bite message”, and “is against the ethos of the service”.

“The word punishment plays to the gallery and doesn’t help those in the front line of the service. It’s not to do with the reality of the organisation, making it harder for people to do their jobs properly.”

Simmons claims the appointment of an external branding consultancy and more consultation with Probation Service employees would have benefited the Home Office in its renaming exercise.

“They have not listened to the people in the service itself enough, which is vital, as is gaining outside opinion. Using an external group is not about image, but trying to find the service’s fundamental values and conveying them effectively for the organisation,” says Simmons.

Also slamming the renaming is the Howard League for Penal Reform, which was instrumental in establishing probation in the UK more than 100 years ago.

Howard League director Frances Crook claims there is an “obsession with image” that needs to be ignored. “We don’t like the new name very much and it is a mistake to concentrate too much on image and names. I would prefer the Home Secretary to encourage the good practices within the Probation Service, instead of criticising things about it,” she says.

Crook also echoes Simmons’ comments about the inclusion of the word punishment. “Probation is not based on punishment, but on helping people through a crisis and preventing further crime. Simply inflicting pain is negative and pointless and it is very sad to drag probation into this puerile world. We should all improve together, which is most important for the victims of crime.”

Though she believes the new title will remain, Crook advocates “ignoring” it. “I think the idea of probation will carry on and people will ignore the name change.”

With the name not due to change until April, Simmons hopes the negative reaction will spark a change of heart; “I hope the Government thinks again.”

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