Towards Effective Practice in Offender Supervision

Published: January 2009

This paper has been prepared principally for the Performance Improvement Strategy Group – a group convened by the Community Justice Division of the Scottish Government to advise and assist in the development of criminal justice social work services in particular and of community justice more generally. The PISG comprises representatives of the Scottish Government’s Community Justice Division, of the Effective Practice Unit, of the Association of Directors of Social Work, of the voluntary sector service providers in Scotland, of the Scottish Prison Service, of the Risk Management Authority and from various Scottish universities.
Discussions between the chair and some of the members of the PISG charged with leading work-streams on accreditation, interventions and inspection, indicated the need for the provision of a summary of effective practice that was sensitive to the unique Scottish context for the community supervision of offenders. The paper aims to provide that summary and to develop some ideas around a Scottish model of effective practice in offender supervision; as such it is concerned principally with the roles and tasks of criminal justice social work staff rather than with the important but broader debates around community and criminal justice in Scotland.
As a short account of some of the research evidence that can inform and enhance the supervision of offenders in the community, this paper is inevitably selective and deliberately discursive in tone. It is not a systematic literature review, though it draws on a very extensive and more comprehensive source document of the same title (McNeill, Whyte and Connolly, 2008). It does not pretend to offer neutral, measured or definitive conclusions about ‘what works?’, if indeed that is possible. Rather, it seeks to build an argument for a particular and still developing approach to offender supervision that fits with the Scottish context.
Following the structure of the more detailed source document, the paper begins by reviewing the available Scottish reconviction data and exploring the nature of reoffending in general, thus setting the scene in terms of the challenges that criminal justice social workers face. Section 2 provides an overview of the research evidence about desistance from offending. Section 3, provides an account of two important current models of offender rehabilitation: the Risk-Needs-Responsivity (RNR) Model and the Good Lives Model (GLM). Section 4 is the key part of the document in that it explores the practice process in criminal justice social work, focusing on case management or change management and concludes with a simple conceptual model of an effective practice process and a more practical delineation of the questions that criminal justice social workers need to address in working through the ‘offender supervision spine’. Sections 6 and 7 then briefly examine, respectively, interventions which aim to develop offenders’ skills and capacities (their ‘human capital’) and how services might work with and through their social networks, resources and opportunities (their ‘social capital’).
The intended audience of this paper is the PISG in the first instance, but subject to the views of that group and to further development of the paper, we hope that it might prove useful to the wider policy and practice communities in Scotland – and perhaps further afield.

Authors / Editors

Prof Fergus McNeill

University of Glasgow

Research Themes

Criminal Justice Process and Institutions