How do people subject to supervision offenders experience it?
by Ioan Durnescu
University of Bucharest (RO)
Although there has already been a long history of offender supervision, the number of studies looking at the subjective experience of the recipients of supervision is still limited.
The experience of supervision is obviously influenced by a number of factors. Some of them are related to the way the sanctions are constructed. In this respect, supervision is becoming more and more sophisticated and relying more and more on technology. Electronic monitoring is a good example to illustrate this point.
Some countries have abandoned the requirement of offenders’ consent to some forms of supervision (e.g. the Community Order in England and Wales). And in many countries the number of conditions and obligations attached to supervision has grown so much that some suggest that supervision is beginning to resemble a ‘virtual prison’.
Another set of factors that seems to be associated with the experience of supervision is the way the supervision practice is constructed. If practice is perceived as legitimate and transparent then offenders tend to perceive supervision as a good opportunity to build a new life and to avoid prison. Furthermore, if supervision is described as focused on problem solving or on offenders’ welfare needs, then it is perceived by the recipients as helpful. The same applies when probation workers are considered reasonable, open, flexible and trustworthy. But the converse also applies; if offenders define supervision as lacking in procedural fairness or too intrusive then they tend to look at it with negatively.
Tension is also reported in relation to electronic monitoring. While some offenders appreciate the opportunity to avoid prison and live a ‘similar to normal life’, others consider that electronic monitoring puts them under psychological pressure in terms of stress, fear and temptation.
The same can be said about community service. Studies show that usually offenders regard this sanction as worthwhile and feel like they are gaining something from it personally. But at the same time, studies suggest that some offenders feel it is quite hard to preserve long term commitment and find it difficult to accept the need to work without payment.
Most of the existing studies on the experiencing supervision seem to be based on a limited number of subjects and on in-depth interviews with offenders. It has become clear that in order to capture the full complexities of the interaction between offenders and the supervisors new and more ethnographic methodologies should be developed in the future.
Thankfully, reseachers are now rising to this challenge so that in the near future we may know a great deal mow about what people think and feel about being supervised, and what impact the experience has on them and on those around them.