The experiences of people confined to institutions such as prisons, mother and baby homes, Magdalene laundries and industrial schools, have received significant attention in recent years.
However, the historical experiences of people under probation supervision in the community have been largely forgotten.
The Histories of Probation project, led by Dr Louise Kennefick (Maynooth University) and Dr Deirdre Healy (University College Dublin) aims to uncover and document people’s experiences of probation supervision.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the Probation Service was a small and largely voluntary service but has since evolved into a nationwide, professionalised organisation with a social work ethos.
Today, probation officers play a crucial role throughout the criminal justice process; for example, providing pre-sanction reports to courts, supervising offenders in the community, and working with prisoners in custody and after release.
In 2019, the Probation Service received 279 referrals from courts in the Kilkenny region.
CSO statistics show that 37.8% of Kilkenny residents placed under supervision in 2016 were reconvicted within one year of completing a supervision order. “However, these figures cannot tell us whether probation supervision helped people to stop offending or how it impacted on their lives,” Dr Kennefick said.
The researchers would like to hear from anyone placed under probation supervision by the courts in the 1960s or 1970s, whether this was a probation order, community service order, suspended sentence or temporary release.
Dr Kennefick explains why this project is so important: “We believe that this project will provide a better understanding of the history of the Probation Service, which may help to improve policy and practice in the future. We would like to know what it was like to be under supervision during the 1960s and 1970s, whether those experiences were helpful, unhelpful or irrelevant to people’s lives.”
“We hope that people will be willing to come forward and share their stories with us. The more people who participate, the more useful the findings will be. While the Probation Service has expressed support for the project, it is important to say that the study is not being conducted by or on behalf of the Probation Service, which means that all information will be kept confidential.”
During the first phase of the project, the researchers interviewed probation officers about their experiences of working during the 1960s and 1970s.
Probation officers described their role at this time as being to ‘advise, assist and befriend’ clients and as having a strong community and vocational ethos.
Probation officers also spoke about a lack of state-funded rehabilitation services, which impacted on their ability to help clients build better lives or move away from crime.
To compensate, many innovated by introducing new programmes or drew on existing services in the community, including those provided by religious orders and voluntary lay organisations such as the Legion of Mary.
Those who would like to participate in the study, or learn more, are invited to email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01 474 7208 leaving name, contact number and a brief message.
Due to Covid restrictions, interviews will be conducted by phone, zoom or Skype.
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