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Communication Within the Criminal Justice System: The Case Study of a Probation Organisation Research Paper

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Updated: May 4th, 2022

Introduction

It is a fact beyond doubt that humans cannot live without communicating with one another. It is noted that communication takes place everywhere, and it takes many forms. It is one of the factors that maintain the social fabric in the society.

According to Mohan & McGrecore (45), communication can be conceptualised as a two way process, an interaction between two parties. It involves sending of the message by the communicator, and reception of the same by the recipient. The sender of the message uses codes such as words and gestures to pass it (Mohan & McGrecore 78). The coded messages pass through a channel or a media, such as the radio, television or a printed media such as a letter or a newspaper. The coded message can also be passed across directly, for example in a conversation taking place on a face to face basis.

When the recipient gets the message from the channel or the media that has been used to send it, it is up to them to decode. They decode by making sense of the codes used by the communicator, or in other words interpreting the codes. An important thing to note here is that the sender and the recipient must be sharing the meaning of the symbols used in communicating; otherwise the meaning of the message will be lost on the recipient (Grellier 45). When the recipient gets the message, it is up to them to create meaning of the symbols used in coding it, symbols such as words and gestures.

In the whole process of communication, from the coding of the message to the decoding by the recipient, several principles are at play. These are what Mohan & McGrecore (98) refers to as principles of communication in their book by the same title. These principles include the interaction between the sender of the message and the recipient, the topic or content of the message, the channel used to send the message, factors that may affect the communication, such as environmental factors, among others.

This paper is going to look at the principles of communication that were learned in class within the context of a criminal justice system in the country. The researcher is going to investigate an organisation within the criminal justice system and look at the principles of communication within the context of this organisation. The organisation selected for this assignment is the probation department. The researcher will first give a descriptive narrative of the organisation, including the role in plays within the criminal justice system and within the society at large. The principles of communication that are used in this organisation will then be analysed. The strengths and weaknesses of this organisation as far as the principles of communication are concerned will be provided, and recommendation riding on this will then be provided.

The Probation Department: An Organisation within the Criminal Justice System

A Descriptive Narrative

According to the European Organisation for Probation (herein referred to as EOP), probation is one of the major organisations or departments in a country’s criminal justice system (6). The probation office plays a vital role in this system by supervising and guiding offenders who have been released from the country’s prison system, or who are yet to be sentenced by the courts. There is a synergy between the role that is played by the probation department and the roles that are played by the rest of the criminal justice system organisations. For example, the probation department provides the court with a social inquiry report that informs the court whether the offender can benefit from a non-custodial sentence or not. This helps the court in making the important decision touching on the rehabilitation of the offender. On the other hand, the department provides the prison department with social reports regarding the social environment within which an offender from the prison is to be released into. The prison authorities are able to discern, from this report, whether the offender will be effectively integrated within the community or not.

The probation department also plays a major role in rehabilitating offenders, and integrating them within the community that they come from. This is especially so for those offenders who are ordered by the courts to serve a probation sentence instead of a custodial sentence (European Organisation of Probation 9). The following are some of the roles of the probation organisation within the criminal justice system:

The Role of the Probation Organisation within the Criminal Justice System

According to the European Organisation for Probation (4), the criminal justice system is made up of several parties. These include the community, the prison department, the judiciary, the probation department among others. The roles of the probation organisation will be looked at within this wider context. The following are the core roles of the organisation:

  1. Carrying out of presentence social enquiries and furnishing the courts with presentence reports (EOP 5). These reports aids the courts in dispensing justice to the offender, furnishing the courts with vital social information
  2. Carrying out social enquiry reports at the behest of various discharge boards (EOP 5). The discharge board uses the information to determine the suitability of the those to be released, and this is important in reducing congestion in holding institutions such as the prisons
  3. Supervising offenders who had been put under non-custodial sentence by the court. This is conducted through guidance and counselling of the offender, and ensuring that they adhere to the orders given by the courts
  4. Supervising of aftercare supervisees, for example those offenders who had been released from prison on parole to serve the rest of their sentence outside the prison (EOP 8)
  5. The department also provides temporary accommodation to offenders that are deemed to be needy and deserving of the same. This is for example those offenders whose home environments are hostile to them to the extent of making rehabilitation and resettlement of the offender impossible

The above are just some of the roles of this organisation. Others include rehabilitation of offenders, reintegration of the same back into the community, and generation as well as documentation and handling of data (EOP 4).

Principles of Communication within the Probation Organisation

As earlier indicated in this paper, several communication principles are evident in various organisations in contemporary society. The department of probation within the country’s criminal justice system is no exception. The following are some of the principles of communication that the researcher observed from the department:

Feedback

Hegarty (2) notes that one of the major principles of communication is getting an appropriate feedback. This scholar is of the view that sending of the message on the part of the sender is not enough communication. Sending out letters and circulars to the members of an organisation is not enough. There is need to ensure that the recipient did in fact receive the message, and they should acknowledge this reception.

It is through feedback that the sender of the message can determine whether the recipient was listening to the message or not, and if they agreed with the contents of the message or not.

Some elements of feedback were observed in the probation department. Most of the communications in this department were done through letters from the headquarters, or circulars. Also, the head of the department would communicate with the staff in their division through circulars that were pinned on the office notice board, or sent to the member of staff’s desk.

When a letter from the headquarters was received, the head of the department just noted it and it was filed away in a file labelled “headquarters’ correspondence”. Usually, this will be the end of the matter if the letter did not require any action on the part of the department. However, if some form of action were required on the letter, feedback will be sent back to the headquarters together with the results of the action that was undertaken. The researcher remembers a case where a letter was sent from the headquarters asking the head of department to provide financial records for the past three months. When the records were compiled, they were sent to headquarters with a cover letter that started with the statement “following your request on (date stated) regarding the financial returns for the past three months…” This was observed to be the main form of feedback between the department and headquarters.

The same line of feedback was followed when a member of staff was requested through a letter to perform a given action, for example making statistical returns for the month.

Connecting with the Audience

It is important for a communicator to realise the fact that they have sent out a message to the recipient does not mean that communication have come to an end, or it has been achieved (Hegarty 8). This is especially so in contemporary, fast paced society where everyone is overwhelmed by many messages from various sources. Today, an individual is bombarded by messages anywhere and at anytime. At home, they are constantly bombarded by messages from the television advertisements, from their family members and such others. At work, there are receiving messages from their friends, from letters sent to them and such other sources. This being the case, there is a need for the communicator to realise that they need to connect with their audience, to ensure that their message is not lost in the sea of other messages.

It seemed that communicators in the probation department were aware of this fact. The messages were formatted in such a way that they will connect with the audience targeted. For example, it appeared that the head of department realised that the director of probation in the country is a busy man, and as such, they will not have the time to read a detailed report. As such, reports sent to the director contained an executive summary that provided all the points covered in the report in a summary.

Also, the researcher noted that, when meeting took place in the department, several communication techniques were used to capture the attention of the audience. This is for example the use of projectors to present data, graphs and scenarios to the participants.

Contexts Affects Communication

Grellier (86) notes that the context within which the communication is carried out affects the quality of the communication. For example, if the environment is full of distractions, such as a noisy club, the recipient may miss on some of the contents of the message.

The probation department appeared to be aware of this principle. For example, when the members of staff were to be taken through a training program, this was carried out in a hotel that provided comfortable conference facilities. The probation officers were hosted in a hotel for the duration of the seminar. This meant they were not disrupted by factors such as colleagues from the office, and they were able to concentrate on the contents of the facilitators’ messages.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Communication in the Department

Strengths

  1. It seemed that the members of the department were aware of the principles of communication. They tried, through design or by default, to maximise the effects of their messages, for example through seminars held in hotels and use of executive summaries in reports
  2. There appeared to be a clear line of communication in the department. For example, it was noted that letters were used a lot, and the recipient of the letters were required to acknowledge receipt variously
  3. There appeared to be a detailed record keeping of communications in the department. This is for example the “headquarters’ correspondence” file observed in the probation office

Weaknesses

  1. There appeared to be a rigid communication channel in this department. It was noted that most of the communication channels were top-down, with the top echelons initiating the communication
  2. Communication seemed to be long drawn and laborious. Most of it took place through the form of letters and circulars, and there was a delay between the sending of the message and reception of the same
  3. There was lack of nonverbal communication in the department. Nonverbal and informal communication such as use of body language was largely ignored, as a lot of communication took place formally and through letters mainly

Conclusion

Recommendations for Improvement

  1. To improve communication and efficacy of the same in this department, there is need to adopt a bottom-up approach to communication. Subordinate staff should be encouraged to initiate communication, for example through initiation of a forum where the members of staff can discuss issues openly with the top management. This will ensure that no one is left out in the communication cycle
  2. The department should adopt ICT and integrate it in the communication cycle. This is instead of over relying on letters as the major means of communication. Emails, text messages and video conferencing will greatly reduce the time taken to communicate
  3. The department should continue maintaining communication records, such as those observed by the researcher. This is good for future reference, and it is a means through which the parties in the communication can refresh their memories regarding the contents of the messages sent and received

Works Cited

European Organisation for Probation. STARR: Transferring Best Probation Practices across Europe. CEP. 2010. Web.

Grellier, Jane. Communication Skills Toolkit: Unlocking the Secrets of Tertiary Success. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004.

Hegarty, Ruth. . Evan Carmichael. N.d. 2011.

Mohan, Terry & McGrecore, Helen. Communication as Professionals. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2006.

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