This article is written by Steve Pitts, United Kingdom and Leo Tigges, the Netherlands – September 2019

Probation service provision is far from universal. Existing delivery varies in maturity and emphasis. Donor/funding organisations contribute considerable financial resources to capacity building, whilst service-providing countries and organisations deploy skilled staff, experience, and expertise. Beneficiary countries commit significant staff and resources to new activity, often stretching their own financial and human resources.

Yet in spite of this investment, and the potential benefits of the work, there exists little in the way of analytical or development models of capacity building in community-based services, and no comprehensive studies have been conducted to discern different approaches and their effectiveness. Furthermore, approach and capacity in some countries have evolved with comparatively limited or no external support.

Moreover, whilst practice is informed increasingly by evidence, there is little complementary research into the management, governance and contextual factors that support successful probation institutions.

The Project

We are therefore pleased to describe a research project on the subject of Capacity Building in Probation. The Project’s aims are to improve our understanding of good practice in probation capacity building, and in probation development generally, and to develop, test, and refine a model of development. The model helps to analyse the current state of play in a jurisdiction’s probation development and to build a common understanding to inform further steps that might be taken.

Development considerations appear numerous. They include aims and motivations, which functions or activities are prioritised, organisational conditions or “enablers” such as leadership, resources, “standing”, and staff competencies, and national or jurisdiction context including the wider judicial system, historical, political, and economic environments. International context includes “rules” or guidance, research evidence, trends and wider political factors. Donors and providers engage with national and/or international perspectives, varied coordination (and sometimes duplication), and work proceeds with “technical” and “relational” dimensions.

The Project is funded by the Dutch Probation Charity “NRA”[1] and supported by the Netherlands Helsinki Committee. It receives the advice of an Academic Board based in the Netherlands, Romania and the United Kingdom. The two authors of this notice, having backgrounds in probation management and international development, lead the project.


Methodology includes a brief literature review on the subject of probation capacity building, and fieldwork conducted in five European countries, each with a different trajectory of probation development. The countries considered are Latvia, Poland, Albania, Georgia and Romania. Three of the countries prepared for and joined the European Union during the timeframes considered. Fieldwork in the five countries has recently been completed. In each case it has encompassed materials review and semi-structured discussion with a range of stakeholders, national and international, involved in the development stages of probation work and contemporary implementation. Interim findings were presented at a conference of the CEP on the implementation of community sanctions and measures in Eurasia in Tbilisi in May 2019. Analysis of fieldwork findings is now taking place, together with consideration of other information and reports available at a European level or referring to countries not directly involved in the research. A final project paper will delivered by the end of 2019.

The authors have developed a model, presented here in outline diagrammatically. The model, based around four “domains” of probation, helps to analyse the existing situation regarding probation delivery in each domain, development or delivery “enablers”, contexts, aims and results, and to build a common understanding in support of further steps.

Four Probation “Domains” or Areas of Probation, four “Enablers” or Conditions, and System and International Contexts. Pitts, S. and Tigges, L. 2019

The model will be further modified in the light of findings. It is intended that the research will have applicability in Europe and beyond by contributing to a framework or “language” for improved communication, and a step towards development of good practices in capacity building, thus supporting probation implementation to international standards as described in international guidance including the Council of Europe “Probation Rules” and United Nations “Tokyo Rules”.

The authors are willing to share a fuller note of the project if requested[2], and during this stage of the project would especially welcome contact from readers who have experience of planned probation development – particularly early stage development and capacity building – that they would be willing to share, including any written reports, analysis or insights about the process of probation service introduction and development, including lessons learnt.

Steve Pitts and Leo Tigges may be contacted by email at:

[1] NRA – “Nationale Reclasseringsactie” – a Dutch National Probation Charity specialising in scientific and innovative probation projects

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