Advise, Assist and Befriend: Can Probation Supervision Support Desistance?


Deirdre Healy, Lecturer in Criminology, UCD Institute of Criminology, School of Law, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4. Email:


An important step on the journey towards desistance involves the reintegration of ex-offenders into their communities. In order to desist fully, individuals must gain access to new social resources, overcome existing problems and ‘knife off’ their criminal pasts. They must also find ways to make amends for the harm they have caused. Yet, the reality is that many ex-offenders continue to experience high levels of social marginalization and low levels of life success at least when measured using conventional indicators. Appropriate social policies can encourage desistance and improve the life chances of ex-offenders, for example by increasing their social and human capital or addressing obstacles to change.

The Irish Probation Service offers a useful site for exploring the nexus between social and criminal justice policies. Irish probation officers use a welfare-oriented, casework approach and endeavour to assist probationers with personal and social problems. The new penology has yet to make substantial inroads in this jurisdiction and the signs that indicate a shift in this direction, such as a focus on risk management, punishment and cognitive behavioural work, are not entrenched.

Drawing on the results of a prospective study of desistance among adult men on probation, this article examines the extent to which probation policy and practice support the desistance process. In particular, it explores participants' perceptions of the state response to their desistance attempt and whether this response enhanced or impeded their efforts to change. Finally, it proposes policy recommendations that would help to promote desistance.