Evaluation of the honorary probation officer service in Victoria

Criminology Research Council grant ; (4/78)

The grant for this study was made in 1978 to Professor Ronald Henderson in his capacity as Chairman of the Volunteer Resource Centre, a body established by the Victorian Council of Social Services. The research was undertaken by Mr M. Dumais who then held the position of Director of the Centre.

The actual research was largely undertaken in the late 70s, a time when volunteerism was undergoing rapid change. At that time the development of welfare and correctional services were leading to probation being seen less as a remedial program and more as a community-based service. The study reflected these changes and highlighted a form of volunteer activity which had a clear community service role while at the same time provided for the personal growth of the individuals involved.

The aim of the project was to determine the relative health of the honorary probation officer system in Victoria. The study concentrated on the providers of the service and their understanding of the objectives of probation. It did not ascertain whether those objectives were relevant or whether they were achieved. The study was conducted more in a spirit of organisational development than of pure research.

The basic information was obtained from questionnaires completed by 470 honorary and 54 stipendiary probation officers as well as 18 regional superintendents, and a series of structured workshops were conducted. One product of the project was a manual for program coordinators which aimed to increase the effectiveness of honorary probation officers. This manual is appended to the final report of the project.

The study found that there was a lack of clarity at all levels as to what probation was meant to achieve, and there was confusion about who was meant to do what for whom. There was also a lack of documentation on the effectiveness of probation services. These problems were found to be exacerbated by the restructuring of the Department of Community Welfare Services that also occurred at that time.

Throughout the course of the study it was found that there was a great deal of willingness to explore and discuss these issues in a constructive manner. The role of the Probation Officers Association of Victoria was seen as central to the achievement of needed change. Since that time other changes have occurred, most notably the establishment of a separate Office of Corrections. The lessons learned from this study are still relevant to the use of volunteers within the new structure, but further research would be needed to establish whether or not all of the conflicts have been satisfactorily resolved.