Tripartite interaction in the community payback order
Williams, Ralph Griff
The Scottish Community Payback Order (CPO) came into force in February 2011, and was envisaged as a sentence that combined punishment, reparation and personal change. However, research into the CPO has been limited, and there has yet to be an in-depth examination of the CPO in practice: how those involved communicate and interact with one another, thereby realising the CPO’s operation. This research project is a naturalistic exploration of the communicative interactions between the three key stakeholders of the CPO – social work officers, offender clients and the beneficiaries of unpaid work – in order to develop an understanding of the day-to-day social realities these interactions construct. This project has two objectives. The first is to explore the internal, subjective meanings that each stakeholder interpretively attributes to stimuli within the context of the CPO and which motivate their resultant actions. The second, subsequent, objective is to use these understandings to analyse how the intermingling of stakeholders’ meanings through their interactions produces a shared social reality between them. These objectives are achieved through two exemplifying case studies: observing the frontline interactions between officers/clients and clients/beneficiaries in the CPO's supervision and unpaid work requirements respectively. By utilising a hybrid ontological approach that combines social constructivism and symbolic interaction with discourse analysis as an analytical medium, this project explores the actions and interactions of these stakeholders - the experiences and perspectives that shape them, and their consequences in shaping the CPO's day-to-day operations. These observations are supplemented by qualitative, ethnographic interviewing, wherein the same participants provide their own guidance on how they perceive and understand their place and interactions within the CPO. In exploring the interactions that take place both in supervision and unpaid work, this project's findings offer an insight into how the CPO operates in practice. Supervision emphasised a client-driven model of change, with supervisors taking considerable effort to develop an individualised understanding of clients in order to facilitate and encourage clients' own motivation and agency to change. On the other hand, however, even collaboration between clients and their supervisors struggled to overcome the toxic, criminogenic environments in which clients lived, and which hindered and/or undermined their sincere efforts to meaningfully change their lives. Unpaid work, on the other hand, achieved a positive, inclusive atmosphere between clients and the organisations/staff which benefited from their work. Under the correct conditions, unpaid work projects could foster a new self-identity for clients, founded in a sense of worth and contribution. However, unpaid work also struggled with its own identity: a lack of public involvement, and a fictional normalisation of clients, resulted in an obfuscation of clients' social needs (needs which unpaid work was in a position to address). As a result, unpaid work could also be a mindless series of unsatisfying 'odd jobs' with little personal or practical value for clients. These findings have considerable implications, both for government policy and the academic community. At the most basic level, this project presents a more complex picture of the CPO than its policy depiction, with little to no 'payback' to 'communities' occurring in practice. But on a deeper level, these findings highlight not only the benefits of a client-centric, agency-fostering approach to engaged intervention, but the necessity of a broad perspective in supporting offender clients in their efforts to desist. The fostering of social capital is essential for the realisation of even short-term desistance from crime, and extends beyond a client's immediate personal network to the stakeholders encountered as part of their CPO, and even further into the environments in which they live.