Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Unsung Heroes

The Probation Service is an essential part of the criminal justice system, and is involved in every serious case in one way or another. Probation Officers are not well known to the public (apart from the occasional ranter in the Mail's readers' comments) but we would be in a fix without them. Few other services have been so comprehensively buggered about over the last two or three decades, their mission moving from 'advise, assist, befriend' to becoming part of the punishment apparatus with, these days, an emphasis on assessing and managing risk.

Last night's BBC1 programme "Out of Jail and on the Streets" showed (mostly female) officers marching  into dubious locales to carry out home visits to offenders, many of whom had committed violent crimes. There is always a danger when someone with mental health problems fails to take his medication, so there is a real, if mercifully rare, chance that an officer might be attacked one day.
These days anyone who has served in the military in any capacity is a 'hero' to the tabloids, even if he was a cook at a base well behind the lines.These probation officers deserve to be called heroes too.

The programme is on iPlayer for a while. Don't miss it. 


  1. Thanks for the recommendation. I couldn't agree more.

  2. "There is always a danger when someone with mental health problems fails to take his medication".

    You are perpetuating a pernicious myth, there. The vast majority of people with mental health problems are not dangerous, and would still not be dangerous if they failed to take their meds. The most common medication is probably prozac, and if you stop taking that the only danger is that you might commit suicide.
    Possibly you meant "There is always a danger when a probationer with mental health problems fails to take his medication", but even that is probably not true. There are probably a good deal more probationers with non-dangerous mental health problems than otherwise.

    1. I think you miss the point, the item was about probation staff and the sterling work they do under difficult circumstances and not about mental health. To suggest tat probation staff have a number of mental health probles shows an incredible lack of understanding in the probation service, or perhaps the writer has had a negative experience of probation????

    2. That has to be a troll. Anyone really leaping to the defence of probation officers would know that they are not called 'probationers', which is a term meaning 'a person on probation'.

  3. Perhaps I don't study the tabloids as carefully as Bystander, but I can't remember any army cooks being hailed as "heroes". Front line troops, particularly if they've been injured in the course of their duties, yes. And there is no need to use quote marks when you describe those men and women as heroes.

  4. Watched the programme. These officers do take some risks. Imagine being alone with a convicted sex offender and he admits he has the hots for you. OK, so the camera crew were there, but if they hadn't, she (the officer) would have been taking a big risk.

    It also demonstrated the nature of these probation officers to sense fact from fiction. Most on the programme were obviously lying about breaching their restrictions, but there are those who are more savvy and know how to handle their probationers. That's when the officer's training and experience comes to the fore.

  5. I would have more time for Probation if they would stop saying "he is at high risk of re-offending" or "she is at medium risk of re-offending" - it is symptomatic of their view of offending as something that happens to offenders, not something which they choose to do and wbhich happens to their victims.

    Similarly "the offence was due to peer pressure" - no, the offender did it because s/he chose to give way to peer pressure.

    They seem to have no conception of personal responsibility for personal wrongdoing. Except of course in d.v. . . .

    1. An interesting viewpoint, but one that couldn't be further from reality in my experience as a probation officer.

      All officers continually focus on issues of responsibility with clients - I think you may be confusing personal responsibility with a clients often distorted thinking. They make lots of wrong decisions and need help in understanding that such decisions have certain consequences. We merely seek to try and understand why this might have happened and explain it to the court.

      We also seek to alter those thinking patterns of course as part of the process of encouraging rehabilitation. Offences are indeed due to peer pressure sometimes, especially if someone is vulnerable to that pressure by virtue of age, immaturity, limited intellectual capacity, gender, ethnic origin, character etc.

      Finally, I'm afraid all that stuff about high risk of offending etc is as a result of OASys, a system devised by HM Prison Service and foisted on us by our NOMS masters.

  6. Very interesting programme. They deserve our respect for what they do in difficult circumstances.I wish I knew what I do now when I was 21 - I may have made some different career choices.

  7. Understood, Jim, but you could still write "OASys suggests that the risk that he will re-offend is high" if that is what you mean. The fact is that it is the offender and only the offender who decides whether or not to re-offend.

    As for peer pressure: here it is you who are re-offending! You have bought into the attitude that offences are due to peer pressure which is just plain wrong. The factors you mention may explain why the offender gave way to peer pressure - but it remains the fact that s/he did.

  8. In 20 years of sitting, including nearly 15 in the youth court, I have yet to meet Peer.

  9. Thank you, Bystander, for the recommendation. Found it on Youtube, not iPlayer.

    The first thing I learned from the programme, is that offenders out on licence are reassuringly easy to spot, because they have that square halo around them, as they walk about. :-)

    "I drink because I'm going to do the offences". What an extraordinary statement. I can't quite believe that the kidnapper guy said to his friend, "Hey, shall we go out tonight, and hijack a car, and then stab the driver?" and his friend said, "Heck, yeah! But let's get drunk, first."

    It was good to see someone who committed offences while drunk, being told to drink no more than a small amount, and this actually enforced. Given breath tests every day and then sent back to prison for failure to comply. Far better that, than merely kept in prison for his full term and then let out with no supervision. What about drying-out clinic? Thought he was horrible. But had to agree that for him, it's harder being out of prison, than in. Where did he get the idea, "they want me to fail"?

    Wished that someone would give Roger a hug. He should have been in hospital. Great scandal, to close mental hospitals, and then use prisons as substitutes with, I assume, no proper staff with no training and no facilities.

    Would have liked to have known more about the background of the offenders in the programme. What was their childhood like? The usual story, I imagine.

    Excellent to see a public service, working. The staff were indeed heroic. So 50% of offenders on licence, do not reoffend whilst on licence. That sounds like a success rate, to me.

    I always thought that "walked free from court" was nonsense, as Bystander often says. This programme confirmed that, as always, Bystander knows what he is talking about.


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