'New' police work with offenders? Exploring senior and strategic perspectives

  • Iain Britton

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Police organisations spend a substantial proportion of their time and resources working with offenders. The nature of police work with offenders and in particular the strategic culture that shapes those working relationships deserves more attention. A series of developments over the past two decades, that can collectively be debated as representing a ‘new’ police work with offenders, has led to the police role expanding in mission and scope, undertaking different roles with offenders and working in novel partnership contexts. These changing modes of police work with offenders include in particular developments in youth justice, the management of prolific and priority offenders, approaches to drugs misuse, and managing those offenders who present a risk of serious harm. The objective of the thesis is to develop fresh insight through exploring these developments at a senior and strategic level. The thesis engages with these questions through a grounded theory methodology that encompasses an analysis of national policy documents and a case study based upon semistructured interviews with senior police officers and key strategic stakeholders from a small shire police area in England. The key findings identify that the changes in police work with offenders represent a big, ambitious and expansionist policy ambition, manifesting in a more proactive and partnering practice, and founded upon policy drivers of prevention and managing risk. The findings are suggestive of a somewhat chaotic and incohesive policymaking context for policing, suggesting the changes to be chaotic in their genesis and also partly accounted for by ‘gap filling’ in respect of other agencies. The developments sit in tension with short-termism and single-agency thinking, and there is a sense of a predominantly operational-level focus to senior-level thinking and of a ‘retro-fitting’ of legacy police roles to new practice settings. The changes in police work with offenders that are identified provoke consideration of significant policy and practice implications for the police, in particular tensions between ‘core’ and ‘expanding’ ideas for the scope of the police. The findings also identify strategic challenges in the implementation of the changes within policing, most particularly the challenges of doing things differently and of doing things together with other agencies, and the positionality of the changes as being ‘ephemeral’ and ‘peripheral’ within the wider policing organisation. The changes carry a significance for police culture and professional identities; there are worries of professional ‘degeneration’, of police officers ‘going native’, which prompt in turn consideration of the cultural competence and literacy of the police in respect of the new partnering contexts. Finally, the findings stimulate interesting debates in respect of ‘newness’ and continuity in policing and of the implications of both for police strategy, practice and identity. Overall, the thesis calls for a cohesive (rather than fragmented) engagement with the developments across police work with offenders, and for deeper and more sensitive understanding of these ‘new’ modes of police work.
Date of Award2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Northampton

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