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Multi-Agency Working in Criminal Justice: Control and Care in Contemporary Correctional Practice.




Pycroft, A. and Gough, D. (eds.) (2010). Bristol: Polity Press. pp.261 (pbk)

21.99[pounds sterling] ISBN 978 1 84742 453 2

This edited collection of sixteen essays is written by a group of academics, some of whom are practitioners as well specifically involved in delivering the professional qualification course to probation officers over the last decade.

The level of in-depth analytical discussion that the collection provides demonstrates a thorough understand of the topics, content and debates that preoccupy contemporary criminal justice in Britain. The contributors take us on an entire syllabus of the development and structure of multi-agency work. The first four chapters identify major issues, of the approach of policy-makers as simplistic notions of cause and effect. One chapter identifies major issues of how the values and ethics behind multi-agency working have shifted from cooperation and mutuality to competition and mixed market. Another that these provisions result in the service users receiving a fragmented experience. Each of the constituents' subjects of client work is addressed in a chapter: women, black and minority ethnic groups, persistent and dangerous offenders, children, victims of domestic violence, resettlement of offenders and offenders with mental health issues, substance misuse populations and youths. The final two chapters focus a little on the professionals themselves who make up these multi-agencies and explores the issues of reflective practice and the challenges towards probation work 'in an attempt to tame the beast of multi-agency working' (p.241).

The layout and format of the book is a credit to the editors, although quite voluminous in its content, each chapter systematically starts with bullet points of its aims. Some, but not all, provide an essay question and a summary of key points and/or points for further consideration, while all suggest further readings. These are all good tools for fellow lecturers and students who might use the book.

There are a small number of issues that the work raises but does not address fully. One of these relates to the theoretical debate. Although in Chapter One Pycroft ably presents 'complex theory' as an offering for the macro framework, it might also have been useful to comment on a broader spectrum of theories. For example, criminological theories like 'law and order' for an explanation of policy, 'desistence theory' in terms of objectives for the sector and resettlement as more than just a practice. Parkinson's hints to the latter in his contribution on 'Unlocking prisoners: does multi-agency work hold the key to successful resettlement of released prisoners?'. However, it needs to be addressed as a problematic that impacts on all the broad constituents of the subjects so very well covered in the collection.

The issues of the crucial nature of communications to partnership working, the multi-layers of professional practice and the empirical discursive of responsibility and accountability are well-articulated in the chapters. However, this is from the perspective of probation workers who, while they comprise the larger share in multi-agency working, are slowly and if not inevitably being drowned out as the mainstream professionalism. The competing professionalism of either the police or local authority or the private contractor as determining profession ethos and culture are not examined. This might not be a debate that can be made here but it is certainly one that this work speaks to if not fully developed.

The very nature of the content and almost faultless arranging of the chapters is neatly interwoven. The standard of debates raised in such congruity throughout the collections makes the book a welcomed contribution to academia, policy and practice, and, indeed, theorising around criminal justice service delivery in particular and the multi-agency strategy in its specificity.

Lystra Hagley-Dickinson, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, University of Northampton
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Author:Hagley-Dickinson, Lystra
Publication:British Journal of Community Justice
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2011
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