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Inside the social world of a witness care unit: role-conflict and organisational ideology in a service

Roulstone, Claire (2015) Inside the social world of a witness care unit: role-conflict and organisational ideology in a service. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Since the early 1990s, political rhetoric concerning the victim’s role in the criminal justice process has shifted. The formation of Witness Care Units was the cornerstone of the government’s new strategy to provide additional support to victims and witnesses during their journey through the criminal justice system (CJS). From the outset, the Units were envisioned as being ‘multi-agency’: that is, representatives from the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) were obliged to become involved in victim work, and through such co-operation it was envisaged that victims and witnesses would be better informed, protected and supported. Such measures defined the Witness Care Units in a formal, procedural sense: at the same time, the Units would become arenas relating to the care of victims and witnesses. Therefore, a dispassionate description of a unit – the witness care officers, and their shared values that manifested themselves in the practices of the Witness Care Unit – might expose an attitude towards witness care that differed from that embodied within the national strategy. Through a detailed ethnographic study of the lived experiences of the practitioners of a Witness Care Unit, this thesis contributes to learning by using new data to examine some of the enduring challenges faced by them as they responded to the changing socio-political context. The study attempts to show that practitioners had differing role perceptions, and three ideal-types of witness care officer (humanitarian, performance-led and disaffected) were derived from the analysis which were a convenient way of making sense of this phenomenon. The competing demands of various organisational, personal, and societal factors was just one example of the contradiction between the ‘reality’ and the government’s declared vision for Witness Care Units. These findings corroborate the commonly held assumption amongst academics that the CJS is plagued by ambiguity (for example, Rock, 2004). Despite the use of the term ‘care’ in the implementation of government policy, the thesis highlights that the primary goal of Witness Care Units was to meet the government’s imperative to get more offenders brought to justice. Thus, government language purporting to put victims at the heart of the system was more likely to give victims the impression that they would have a more significant participatory role than they actually were being given.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2015 Claire Frances Roulstone
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Sets: Departments > Finance
Departments > Sociology
Supervisor: Rock, Paul

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