The paper considers the past and potential contribution to social justice of the probation service in England and Wales, within the context of the service's complex origins and tradition, in which humanitarian and disciplinary concerns have long co-existed. The paper explores the service's connections with processes of categorization and governance of the dangerous, and its alignment with the ‘psy’ disciplines in developing its claims to professional expertise. The implications of the recent reassertion of the centrality of psychological understandings of offending and its prevention, in the form of cognitive-behavioural programmes, are discussed, and the circumstances in which the movement for ‘effective practice’ can and cannot contribute to social justice are discussed. The paper then explains the grounds for believing that a concern with social justice entails a commitment to crime prevention at a level beyond that of direct work with known offenders, and explores the potential of restorative justice as a means of achieving a reintegrative and participatory approach to community safety. The paper concludes with a discussion of the service's successes and failures in anti-discriminatory practice, and the feasibility of a social justice agenda in the current policy context.