One afternoon in the mid-1980s, a very senior Home Office official addressed an audience of senior probation officers who were gathered in the autumn sunshine of a south coast resort to consider how best to develop probation practice in the light of evolving penal policy. He told them that the need was to adopt styles of work focusing on offending and acknowledging themselves as punishment; the days of probation as social work were over, the service must recognise its role as unequivocally part of the penal system. Its special purpose was, he said, to provide appropriately constructive but none the less punitive programmes that would encourage sentencers to allow offenders whose crimes were in the middle range of seriousness to remain in the community, thereby helping the Home Office achieve its objective of ensuring that only the most serious offenders were sentenced to imprisonment. In fact, he was outlining the policy that is now well known as twin-tracking, the main strategy for the achievement of which is increased provision of punishment in the community. When the staff conference ended, managers and probation officers set about this task of devising and implementing strategies to increase the number of people convicted of medium-serious crimes (such as burglary) on their caseloads, and reduce the number of first offenders.
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