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Understanding the community management of high risk offenders.


Kemshall, H (2008), Maidenhead: OUP/McGrawHill. ISBN 978-033521998-5 (pbk) 22.99 [pounds sterling]

This book contributes to the crime and justice series established by the OUP in 1996. The author, Hazel Kemshall is engaged with the issues surrounding risk in the criminal justice system through books, articles and a CD-ROM guide for criminal justice practitioners. She is an expert in this field. This book considers approaches to the particular 'high risk' group of offenders. Practitioners, managers and policy makers have been driven by 'extensive media, political and public attention, fuelled by blame and censure when things go wrong'(introduction).

The book provides rigour and structure for those responsible for assessing and managing high risk offenders. The book is divided into seven chapters that explore the history and context of dangerousness, key issues in risk assessment and management, partnerships, human rights and in finally consider signposts for future developments.

Governments have always been anxious about how to deal with those people who are considered to be 'risky' and the 'dangerous' yet these remain 'elusive terms'. The first chapter suggests that definitions around 'high risk' offenders are located within the contexts of use; legislation, policy, practice and public and media perspectives. A reader unfamiliar with this debate is offered a panoptic view of how risk has come to dominate research, thinking and practice. At its most basic Kemshall states, the debate it is about 'how we solve the problem of risk either as an exclusive society or as an inclusive one'(p23).This is the hinge on which the debate opens.

Kemshall suggests that it is helpful for practitioners and managers to discern three approaches to definition-criminological and legal, psychological, and sociological. For practitioners the centrality of risk within offender based work has contributed to the development of differential risk assessment methods that may be, 'notoriously open to bias' (p11) Indeed in the time gap between the publication of the book and this review further serious offences by supervised offenders (baby P. and Sonnex) have further escalated public concern.

Miscalculation is often attributed to individual failure and incompetence. Practitioners may be subject to a number of biases that may distort assessments and Kemshall provides, over several chapters an essential guide to these and stresses the need for the practitioners to remain alert and aware.

Optimism remains however. Contemporary developments by engaging with different kinds of partnership offer a hopeful way forward. For this reviewer this was the most interesting and optimistic section of the book. Agency based risk management strategies are often characterised by a concentration on surveillance and risk prevention. By contrast community based partnerships tend to adopt a broader preventative and reintegrative approach. This may be complimentary to that provided by agencies and includes a human rights perspective. In particular 'circles of support' and accountability schemes .The Thames Valley project, amongst others seems to be effective. 'Circles of support', for example, may compliment existing strategies in order to decrease the distance between the offender and society.

The final chapters consider how existing elements of risk assessment strategy may be 'blended 'into a more coherent approach to the management of high risk offenders. Agencies within the justice system that have invested extensively in cognitive behavioural programmes are increasingly acknowledging integrative approaches that move beyond attitudinal and behavioural change. Desistance theory, and restorative justice, previously dismissed in the context of high risk offenders may also be part of a newly emerging strategy.

In conclusion Kemshall brings together all the themes of the book and directs practitioners and policy makers towards the concept of a 'protective integration'. The objective of which is to 'engage communities as active participants in, rather than passive recipients of-public protection' (133). A number of approaches are combined that, used effectively could address both public concerns and issues around human rights. In a largely negative and punitive environment there would need to be public debate, education and awareness and Kemshall identifies seven key components that must be considered if such an approach is to work.

The book should be part of a collection of important texts for the practitioner and those engaged with practitioners across the criminal justice field. It is concise (133 pages of text with additional glossary and index) detailed and comprehensive. The points are well made, clear and offer a moral and practical compass through the mass of conflicting demands made on practitioners when dealing with high risk offenders.

Dave Phillips, Senior Lecturer in Community Justice, Sheffield Hallam University

End Note

Dave Phillips retired from Sheffield Hallam University on 31st July 2009 and with it retired from the position of Book Review Editor for the British Journal of Community Justice. The Editors and Publisher of the Journal wish to place in print their thanks to Dave for the tremendous work he has undertaken on the Journal's behalf and wish him a long and happy retirement
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Article Details
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Author:Phillips, Dave
Publication:British Journal of Community Justice
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2009
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