Professor Goodman cares about the probation service but, more particularly, he cares about the way that our society responds to those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged, troublesome and in trouble. This concern, and his desire to see professional and compassionate rehabilitation and resettlement services, are clearly conveyed in his book.

Reflecting the career path of the author, the book combines personal, practice and academic themes. Early chapters tell the history of work with offenders. We are reminded that throughout history, society has sought to control and punish the excluded and deviant. The development of the probation service is discussed and assessed in the context of changing ideas about, for example, voluntary philanthropy, social casework, risk management and penal populism.

Goodman then turns his attention to the National Standards for the supervision of offenders in the community. National Standards, prescribed by the government and used to measure the performance of the probation service, set detailed expectations about the process of supervision and enforcement. Goodman subjects successive versions of the Standards to the process of semiotic analysis, highlighting what their language can reveal about dominant perspectives on practice and professionalism. He concludes this section of the book by foreseeing that the looser demands made by the most recent version of the Standards may reflect a desire to see practitioners exercising greater discretion, but may also make it more straightforward to outsource the business of offender management and supervision to the private and voluntary sectors.

The book is at its most engaging when Goodman writes about practice and draws on material gathered over years of research. One chapter identifies and discusses the themes that emerge from interviews conducted with probation workers. The experiences of staff usefully illustrate the shifts in the official purposes and values of probation work described earlier in the book. Goodman points to the extent to which practitioners remain committed to a humanistic and person-centred approach to supervisees, juggling this against continual change in policy, procedure and priorities.

Probation work with people leaving prison (after-care) is a sometimes neglected theme given welcome attention in this book. Goodman writes a chapter describing the history of probation involvement in through-care and after-care and offers a case study of the specialist after-care unit (which offered a service to homeless ex-prisoners) at Borough High Street in London in the period 1965–90. The case study draws on material from previous research projects, unpublished archive material and Goodman's own experience as a worker there. The result is an unusually detailed account of a probation project, explaining how ideas about practice and policy led to the rise, and then demise, of the unit. Goodman's book was written before the government published proposals to extend statutory post-release supervision to short-sentence prisoners, so he is not able to comment on these explicitly. However, it seems clear from his general argument that, whilst supporting the provision of a service to this group of offenders, often with complex needs and likely to reoffend, Goodman would have considerable concerns about locating this work outside the public sector and on the basis of payment-by-results.

This book is not a history of the probation service, it is not a textbook for trainee practitioners or managers, it is not the account of a particular research project, and it is not a critique of current policy developments, although it does contain elements of all of these things. It is a well-evidenced and personal account of the way that managerial and organisational developments in criminal justice have helped and hindered work with offenders in the community. It will be of interest to everyone who, along with Anthony Goodman, believes this to be important.