This article examines the concept, strongly promoted in recent Home Office policy, of partnerships between the probation service and the independent sector. Its aim is to discuss the implications of this concept for probation policy and practice. It is argued first that current debates have tended to lose sight of a long tradition of joint work between the service and the voluntary sector, and examples are given of past partnerships' which may help inform present thinking. Five central issues are then identified - the divisibility of probation tasks, accountability, compatibility of aims, organisation, and funding. It is suggested that their resolution may depend upon enhanced local participation and co-operation in criminal justice.