Multi-Agency and Public Protection

Multi-Agency and Public Protection

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  1. The context in which multi-agency working arises

Over time, public protection in the UK has shifted from ‘penal modernism’ towards a new risk penalty typical of the post-modern period (Kemshall and Maguire, 2001). The risk penalty approach to social offenders involves the establishment of risk management or public protection partnerships at community levels between police, probation services, social services, and voluntary agencies. It also involves the development of protocols to facilitate the exchange of confidential information about individuals deemed to pose risks of harm to others. Moreover, it involves the establishment of multi-agency public protection to discuss individual cases. The roles of multi-agency parties involve the maintenance of databases of offenders for purpose of categorising offenders into distinct risk groups, besides formulating, implementing, and monitoring tailored risk management plans (Kemshall et al., 2001).

Multi-disciplinary working epitomises the practice of criminological discussion about managerialism and risk permeating the system of criminal justice in the UK (Kemshall and Wood, 2007). According to Reeves (2012), strategic and realistic opposition of rehabilitative ideals in favour of controlling rates of crime characterize the discourse. Further, Reeves (2012) asserts that the increased realization that focused work of single agencies cannot manage individual offender risks coupled with the change in the ethos of dealings with offenders has necessitated multi-agency collaboration.

Indeed, the effective address of local domestic violence requires the partnership of different agencies directly or indirectly involved in a case. Partnering is a working relationship characterised by trust and close cooperation between two or more parties that contract with each other to attain mutually beneficial results (Homel, 2000). Often, a crime results from the interplay of the social, economic, and sometimes mental well-being of offenders. Consequently, solving local domestic violence has become increasingly dependent on collaboration between multiple agencies (Diamond & Liddle, 2005).

This trend in addressing social issues, such as domestic violence, stems from the assumption that the local ‘joined-up’, multi-agency approach, in conjunction with the community, will be superior in adjusting to intricate, client-based forms of service delivery. The multi-agency procedure of addressing such social issues stems premise of the assumption that state-based models were disempowering and ineffective (Harvie & Manzi, 2011). Multi-agency partnerships were founded on the conceptual framework of ‘preventionism’ and community governance (Gilling, 2007). Hence, they were an aspect of political progress towards a locally informed, joint approach in forming practices and policies to promote citizenship and local accountability (Sullivan, 2002; Burnett and Appleton, 2004).

According to Stoker (2003), the collaborative approach embraced by various government agencies in resolving social issues, including domestic violence, formed a central part of the UK government’s modernization agenda after 1997. Also, inter-agency partnerships formed core elements of urban policy in Western Nations and developed countries in Asia. The new trend in solving social problems required the agencies to combine resources, competencies, and practices to achieve efficiency in addressing different issues, which is tantamount to sharing the cost of solving a social case (Huxham and Vangen, 2005).

Burnett et al. (2004) point out that governments have been keen to adopt partnership methods to ensure highly effective responses in addressing crimes, besides antisocial behaviour. This approach uses the criminal justice system extensively (Squires, 2008). Therefore, collaborative working among agencies in the UK becomes connected to crime prevention, and under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and Criminal Justice Act 1998, community safety co-operations were instituted as a requirement of the law for local authorities. These statutes obliged statutory agencies to collaborate with local community groups to develop holistic responses to crimes. Ultimately, a multi-agency partnership was formed across England and Wales in all local jurisdictions (Simon and Dodd, 2003, p. 159). Nevertheless, while such a multi-agency partnership approach may be effective in solving anti-social behaviours, the criminal justice-based angle to local domestic violence cases has been unsuccessful. Yet, the United Kingdom and other developed countries have accepted the use of the criminal justice system approach to domestic violence as a model.

Between the early 1990s and the early 2000s, a significant increase in the multi-agency fora in the United Kingdom occurred.  Specifically, the number of multi-agencies has increased from just a handful in the early 1990s to more than 200 in 2001 (Greater London Authority, 2001). Although considered a major success of the feminist movement, these changes coincided with a greater political will towards multi-agency collaborations at the local level in response to identified barriers of the statutory agencies (Balloch and Taylor, 2001). Walklate asserts that a number of factors, including the 1991 Morgan Report recommendations, the counsel in the 1995 Inter-agency Circular of the government, and subsequent Home Office guidance of 1999 stressed the need for multi-agency partnership at the local authorities ‘as a mechanism for addressing the local crimes problems’ (1999, p. 7). Consequently, local communities were encouraged through coordination and partnership to own up to their neighbourhood with the goal of facilitating a broader process of empowering neighbourhoods.

In 1994, the government of the UK identified the Home Office as the primary government department charged with solving violence against women; thus, emphasizing the issue mainly in terms of crime and disorder. This interpretation was furthered in the 1997 New Labour Administration. Subsequently, the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act compelled local crime partnerships to collaborate with their local domestic violence multi-agency fora guided by the government document Living without Fear, which reinstated the domestic violence policies within the ethos of criminal justice. Despite its ambiguity towards domestic violence, the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 placed statutory roles on police, local authorities, health authorities, probation services, and youth justice to establish Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships (CDRPs) with the intent of reducing crimes based on local priorities.

The effects of the Crime and Disorder Act of 1998 changed the characteristics of the local multi-agency forum, in turn, changing the philosophical direction from feminism to bureaucratic politics and legalism (Harvie and Manzi, 2011). A criminal justice approach favours the interests of statutory agencies over the traditionally central role of voluntary women’s agencies and victim groups. This unfavourable outcome attributes to the managerial culture that prioritize short-term target setting at the expense of the emotional engagement necessary to successfully solve the intricate needs of domestic violence victims. Adherence to statutory and managerialist requirements undermined the work of local refugees and women’s groups.

According to Harvie and Manzi, the agencies had transformed into a sort of “corporate, mini social service departments” as opposed to a political movement (2011, p. 91). They relinquished their responsibilities of lobbying against the local state and criticising decision-making by local authorities, constituting a significant set of problems for women groups. Women groups, therefore, had no options but to engage with the state to ensure a continual flow of resource support; otherwise, they would lose the privilege. This allegiance came with the cost of complying with the rules within the organizational cultures and agreements dictated by the statutory agencies.

Further, Harvie and colleagues (2011) argued that the discourse of equality posed a great challenge to the multi-agency approach of domestic violence because it favoured the perpetrator of the crime over the victim. Specifically, it prioritized offender initiatives including rehabilitative schemes over sufferer-led schemes. Therefore, collaborating with the CDRP carried a higher cost for local agencies, especially women groups, for a comparatively lower benefit. The agenda of collaboration undermined the strengths and autonomy of women’s agencies, by marginalizing and suppressing dissent and criticism of the decision-making of local authority respectively.

  1. The Issues and Challenges Involved in Multi-Agency Working

On their own, Voluntary Sector Organizations (VSOs) have shown tremendous success in rehabilitating sexual offenders and victims of domestic violence (Mills, Meek, and Gojkovic, 2010). However, they are prone to different challenges when they collaborate with criminal justice systems. Support, management, coordination, and quality of their relationship with statutory agencies are not only highly variable but also subject to the agenda of prison administrators and probation trust directors who have a say over budgetary allocations to such VSOs. This means that the organizations working in the prison systems are subject to very high instability related to the term completion of prison governors (Prison Reform Trust, 2010). For example, a change in the leadership of HMP Pentoville prison led to the closure of 20 voluntary programmes operating within the jurisdiction leaving just 4 to cater to the population (Woodruff, 2007).

According to Mills, Meek, and Gojkovic (2010), the latest policy formulations aimed at increasing the participation of VSOs in criminal justice provision would exacerbate the situation further. In particular, the policy would “further complicate and blur the relationship and boundaries between the sector and the state” (Mills et al., 2010, p. 2). The institution of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) visualized that work with culprits would be free for competitive tendering, allowing voluntary and private sector associations to contend with prisons and probation departments for a contract to build and run prisons (Robinson and Crow, 2009). Regional Directors of Offender Management (DOMs) would be charged with commissioning local services to mitigate re-offending from different providers. Courtesy of the Corston report on female offenders of 2007, £10 million was allocated for VSOs to afford community support for such perpetrators at risk of re-offending.

Recently, VSOs have partnered with private companies to win tenders to build and manage two new prisons in London and Merseyside. Such developments have triggered speculations concerning the effects of such partnerships on the sector of criminal justice. A study in Minnesota, U.S., revealed that private prisons are less effective than public prisons; offenders released from private prisons are more at risk of relapsing to offence than those released from public prisons (Duwe and Clark, 2013). Critics argued that the criminal justice system would give tenders to those VSOs whose priorities match those of the CJS (Sampson, 2002; New Philanthropy Capital [NPC] 2009). Consequently, VSOs would restrain from critiquing various policies of the government (Neilson, 2009) for fear of being denied support. Hence, they would lose their independent status from the view of the public (Neilson, 2009).

Controversy has also emerged regarding the appropriateness of VSOs that oppose the increased use of the penal system running prisons (Neilson, 2009). The public is of the notion that engaging in punishing offenders is at odds with the philosophy of charity (Cook, 2009). The result of the study by Mills et al. (2010) showed stakeholders of multiagency contending that the relationship between the Prison Services and VSOs has improved. Nonetheless, commissioning strained their relationship with probation more than ever before. In this regard, Mills et al. disclosed that:

There has been over the years quite a cultural shift in the prison service where the voluntary sector is no longer seen as a threat. Either a threat in terms of just leaving POs to turn keys or a threat to the prison service’s main aim which is managing risk to public safety…levels of cooperation between probation services and the voluntary sector… are near an all-time low. Because of the resources for probation service but also there’s fear of potential competition and bidding for each other’s business [VCS stakeholder] (2010, p. 4-5).

Traditionally, probation has been considered the primary agent that unites all domains of the Criminal Justice agency, and the fact that there are other agencies who can deliver some of the roles the former is charged with constitutes a great disappointment. Indeed, Garland (1997) stated that the erosion of penal and welfare policies and practices in conjunction with the diminishing power of welfarism, solidarity, and social engineering related to the 1980s and 1990s have significantly affected the probation service. “Its close association with social work, and through it with the welfare state, has become a liability rather than an asset” (Garland 1997, p. 3). Based on Harding (2000), probation lost its basis with the transition towards a penal authoritarism, which is the prison role, epitomized by expanding range of criminal sanctions and an unrestrained drift towards expanding use of prisons, despite the center-stage position conferred by the Criminal Justice Act 1991.

The Offender Management Act 2007 empowered VSOs and private organizations to assume some of the responsibilities linked with probation. Increased competition between sectors to provide services has begun to influence adversely the relationships and partnerships working on the ground. The other issue that emerged with the commission is that it made the sector corrupt with favouritism for public sectors. In this regard, the interviewees voiced that despite the competitive advantage conferred to the private sector by the current arrangement (Meek et al., 2010; Neilson, 2009), the commission cushioned public agencies against bankruptcy besides being better placed to influence policy. As a result, the public sector has monopolized information and has been disinclined to share information, which has the potential to compromise voluntary sector work with offenders. Information sharing and lack of transparency from providers of care in the public sector agencies is a great challenge, especially regarding sharing information on offenders in a joined-up approach.

The government has excluded public agencies from bidding for prisons leaving VSOs to lead the bids for female offenders schemes with the intent to break the monopoly of the state and motivate other providers to join the mixed system of criminal justice. Gelsthorpe and Sharpe (2009) criticized such measures as counteractive, bound to dissipate the expertise of the public sector and divest the social welfare role of statutory agencies. However, the professionals in the field do not regard these tendencies as problematic arguing that the public sector has already failed in its mandate to provide effective services (Mills et al., 2010).

  1. The Nature of MAPPA/MAPPP

In April 2001, the passing of the Criminal Justice and Court Service Act 2000 obliged all agencies helping domestic violence, and sexual offenders to engage in local Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) (Reeves, 2012). The arrangement intends to offer a joined-up structure for criminal justice and other related agencies to share information about violent and sexual offenders. The plan is based on the assumption that the sharing of data on perpetrators of domestic and antisocial behaviours would inform risk evaluations and implementation of comprehensive risk management plans. The scheme involves assessing relevant offenders as being low, medium, or high risk of offense or recidivism based on which they are classed as befitting to level 1, level 2, or level 3 MAPPA management. The need for inter-agency collaboration was reinforced by the results of a research study to determine the efficacy of treating offenders in mitigating risks of relapse to offend.

Cluley (2008) argues that MAPPA imposes a statutory role on probation, police, and prison services to evaluate and manage the risks that serious offenders pose in the community. MAPPA tackles such offenders based on a three-tier structure, which promotes resource targeting to the most dangerous offenders. The activities and measures used are categorised as levels 1, 2, and 3 depending on the characteristics of the case targeted. Level 1 constitutes ‘ordinary risk management’, and targets offenders that are deemed low/medium risk. Typically, such offenders are managed by the responsible agency without the direct or significant involvement of other agencies. In level 2 cases, referred to as the ‘local inter-agency risk management’, the offenders present a higher level of risk to the community than level 1 offenders, necessitating an intricate plan for managing him or them. In such cases, two or more agencies collaborate in managing the offenders (Cluley, 2008). In level 3, Multi-Agency Public Protection Panels (MAPPS) are created to monitor and oversee extremely dangerous cases. In this context, multiple agencies participate and MAPPPs mandate the attendance of executives who can authorize extra resources to facilitate the risk management plans (Cluley, 2008).

In 1992, UK’s criminal justice established National Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP). It was premised on research evidence of treatment efficacy for sexual offenders, adopting a cognitive behavioural approach.  Caroline Friendship, Beech and Mann (2003) found that sex offenders who were enrolled in the program showed a reduced risk of recidivism than those who were not. This result indicates the potential for SOTP to correct sexual offenders. Therefore, it should comprise part of level 3 MAPPA-based management of dangerous offenders.

Offenders classed under MAPPA as Levels 2 and 3 require the intervention of more than one agency. The agencies involved in such cases meet to discuss the criminal in regular official Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Committees (MARAC) and in random Multi-Agency Public Protection Panels (MAPPP) (Reeves, 2012). Such forums facilitate sharing of information about offenders and the formulation of action plans and decisions to manage the risk posed by a specific offender (National MAPPA team, NOMS & PPU, 2009).

Cluley (2008) asserts that the system empowers those dealing with sex offenders to perform discretionary disclosures to third parties uninvolved in the crime. Information concerning a criminal and his or her offence can be disclosed to relevant persons in situations where a potential risk to children is obvious. The arrangement, however, does not extend to providing large-scale public disclosure of the information contrary to the case in the United States where the public has a right to the details of the information about high-risk offenders, as provided in Megan’s Law.

The discretion on disclosure of information about offenders has become the main source of challenge to MAPPA because of its capacity to ruin the effective correction of the offender and their assimilation into the community. In her study, Culey (2008) set out to find out the use of discretionary measures among the UK police departments, with regard to the circumstances that led to disclosure, the information disseminated to the third parties, who the recipients were, and the perceived outcome of the disclosure. The study considered disclosures done between January and June 2006. The result of the above-mentioned study showed that police departments applied disclosure strategies mainly in cases involving child sex offenders to protect a specific or ordinary child or children. The disclosure was induced by changes in the personal relationship, employment, or housing of offenders deemed as risky to a specific or general child or children. However, such disclosure has the potential to ruin the ultimate goal of a multi-agency scheme aimed at managing and transitioning the offender back into their society. Some obvious negative effects are loss of employment, stigmatization, victimization, and even lynching of offenders.

  1. The specific issues that arise in the case study

A number of agencies were involved in helping Gwilym Richard change and become a reformed person. The first agency to handle Richard was the prison department where he was jailed for 9 years and released on probation to finish the remaining 6 years of his jail term. While serving his term, he enrolled in Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP) but did not progress past the Cat B prison stage. The local community rehabilitation company managed the resettlement part of his release from the Cat B prison. The company organized for him to have a bank account and to attend the DSS and a local housing provider after release. The National Probation Service took charge of his supervision as he was classified as a Category 1, Level 2 MAPPA case. As a result, he was placed under curfew from 7 pm to 7 am at the local probation hostel. During the curfew, he was banned not to indulge himself in drinking and informing the hostel staff of his whereabouts at any time he left the hostel. While he observed the curfew, he appeared secretive and acted strange to the staff. After three months, he got into a relationship with a local woman and started spending time at her address. The probation service learned about this information from an anonymous caller. The woman with whom he got into a relationship was called Ms. Jackson and had two children aged 14 and 7 years, who were on the local child in need register. Richard argues that he chose to keep the affairs secret because disclosing it to the hostel staff would culminate in Ms. Jackson knowing who he really was, which he feared would jeopardise his efforts to transition smoothly into society.

A number of issues regarding this new development on Richard will be of concern at the MAPPA meeting. On the one hand, the probation service and police are concerned about protecting the public so that Richard does not commit the offense again; and on the other, the rehabilitation company is concerned that their client will not fully be able to integrate into the community under the sanction of the probation service. The woman groups will be concerned about the victim of Richard’s first offense and the potential victim Ms. Jackson. The children in need of service would be concerned about the welfare of Ms. Jackson’s children.

In the MAPPA meeting, all the agencies involved in managing Richard will meet to discuss the new information about Richard’s affairs with Ms. Jackson. The information will be shared between the agencies and risk management decisions and action plans will be developed (Reeves, 2012). At the meeting, the local rehabilitation company will stand up for Richard’s rights to rejoin society. It will argue that he has all the rights to assume normal living once released from prison, which is in part the goal of multi-agency work. Richard has the potential to reform and lead a normal life consistent with the themes of the OSTP programme in which he participated. The probation hostel staff are acting as police on Richard by placing very strict sanctions on him and desiring to know all his social dealings; thus, befitting the label “polibation”.

The main person subject to risk is Ms. Jackson and the probation police have the mandate to disclose to Ms. Jackson who Richard really is (Cluley, 2008): that he was released from prison on account of a sexual offense to his former girlfriend, who sustained serious injuries after Richard became violent when she disclosed to him her plan to leave him. It will be up to Ms. Jackson to decide whether to give him a chance or not, and the probation service will have to take risks and submit to the goals of the local rehabilitation company and allow the relationship, but they ought to have the consent of Ms. Jackson.

The relationship between Richard and Ms. Jackson, if it survives the disclosure of Richard’s criminal record, would mean that the children’s biological father would no longer have the full right to see them. With regard to this concern, the ‘Child in Need’ agency will represent them to ensure that they have full access to their father’s presence whenever they so wish.

Staying in the probation hostel sends the message to the community that the resident is an offender of some sort. Consequently, they would be risk averse and would therefore keep a vigil on the activities of every resident. This was the case when the anonymous person took the responsibility of calling the probation service to disclose the new relationship between Ms. Jackson and Richard. This means that some members of the community will not be willing to take risks with sexual offenders, that is, they are risk averse.

In the meeting, Groupthink will be a problem because every agency will be inclined to protect its interest. The probation service and police, the statutory agency of criminal justice, will fight to ensure that they control the offender and ensure that they protect the public, especially Ms. Jackson from Richard. On the other hand, the local rehabilitation company would fight to ensure the bureaucracy of the probation service does not compromise their interest in the smooth transition of Richard into community life (Ribson & Raynor, 2006). However, the police will not take over because Richard has not committed any offense to warrant his arrest; his offense is only to conceal his relationship with Ms. Jackson. Yet, a woman group – although not mentioned in the case – would have fought for their interest to ensure Ms. Jackson is protected from Richard. Also, the ‘child in need’ agency presumably with the same interest as the women group would seek the protection of Ms. Jackson’s children. They might recommend that they are allowed to take them into custody until Richard completes his probation and show evidence of reform. The local rehabilitation company may also benefit greatly if it arranges for Richard to receive counselling (McGuire, 2003) about handling disappointments in life, especially those associated with relationships.


Multi-agency work is complicated, as it involves parties with diverse, conflicting interests. A lack of alignment of the Risk Management Plans (RMPs) (Matthews, 2010) is the likely reason for disagreement between the agencies involved in the case.  However, the agencies should prioritize the main objective of a multi-agency partnership, which is to manage offenders, preventing them from re-offending and helping them assimilate into their community.


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