May 24, 2023

Are perceptions of Procedural Justice important in Probation, and can we measure them?

Dr Helen Wakeling
Senior Evidence Specialist
HMPPS Insights Group

Helen Wakeling, from HMPPS Evidence Based Practice Team talks us through developing a measure for perceptions of Procedural Justice in Probation.

Procedural justice (PJ) is all about making sure people feeling they are being treated fairly. It is not about changing the outcomes of decisions, but paying attention to the way in which decisions and processes are explained.  When people feel decisions are made fairly they are more likely to trust authority figures, respect the rules and follow them whether or not the outcome is in their favour. 

In the last few years there has been lots of research on this in prisons. This shows that when people in prison feel treated in a procedurally just way this is linked to lower levels of violence, better well-being and lower reoffending after release. 

Safely managing people on probation supervision also relies on their compliance and cooperation with the rules and requirements of the sentence. But there has been less research on PJ with people under supervision in the community. 

To address this gap in understanding, the HMPPS Evidence-Based Practice Team have recently done some research focusing on PJ in probation. 

We created a PJ scale using 9 items from the Your Views Matter Survey. This is a survey routinely asking people on probation for feedback about probation services. We used data from 2018 on around 18,000 men and women aged 18 or over, who were under supervision in the community in England and Wales. 

Using this PJ scale, we were able to explore the link between perceptions of PJ, the characteristics of the sample, and their experiences of probation.

We found that when people on probation felt that processes were applied and decisions made fairly, they also reported:

  • having greater involvement in their sentence planning
  • feeling more supported
  • being more focussed on the future, and
  • having more positive experiences of probation.

We were pleased that we can use this existing feedback from people on probation to bring fresh insights on our practice without having to ask anyone for further data. 

But what does this mean for staff working with people on probation?

This research emphasises that focusing on what matters most to people, and future orientation seems to be particularly significant in improving perceptions of PJ.

There were also differences in PJ perceptions based on the characteristics of the sample.  For example, we found better perceptions of PJ for people on probation who were older, and those who were on licence.

We also found that people who were on probation for the first time (compared to those who had experienced probation before), and people who felt the amount of contact with probation was right, also had better PJ perceptions. 

So, this research demonstrates the importance of PJ in probation. It also highlights there is more work for us to do to understand and enhance PJ perceptions, perhaps particularly minority groups, younger people and those who have previous experience of probation sentences.

To improve perceptions of PJ in probation, staff can:

  • explain processes and reasons for certain decisions
  • keep checking in on understanding
  • make sure people on probation feel they have a voice (by offering them chances to ask questions and contribute to making plans or setting goals)
  • be sincere and caring in their approach
  • provide the right information at the right time, and
  • be respectful and approachable to the people under their supervision. 

By definition procedural justice is in the eye of the beholder – we need to keep checking in that the people over whom we have authority see us using that authority equitably. This new scale brings us a fresh opportunity to keep this important aspect of our work more routinely under review and will help us recognise and reinforce great practice as well as areas where we will want to do more.

To find out more about this research, go to:

Examining procedural justice perceptions in probation in England and Wales - GOV.UK (

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