This is taken from the Criminal Law and Justice Weekly dated 10th July 2010:-
"The following case is true. I think the vast majority of magistrates’ court users would have recognized this without needing to be told. There may not be one such defendant in every sentencing list, but they are pretty common. Joe (name changed) is an alcoholic who, when not in prison, lives on the street.
He is now in his late 50s. He has almost 70 previous convictions, nearly all for drink-related criminal damage or other disorderly conduct. He has served a number of prison terms, mainly in the range of 14 days to six months. This time he is up for destroying two windows belonging to an estate agency. He kept throwing bricks at them until they finally smashed. The damage is valued at about £2,000. The only mitigation is the plea of guilty and the fact that Joe recently spent four months on remand for an alleged breach of an ASBO before the case was dropped (because the original ASBO could not be found). Financial penalties are obviously out. There is no prospect of Joe being suitable for any form of community order owing to his chaotic lifestyle and alcoholism. So what should the sentencer do? What is the right, or more accurately least wrong, disposal?"
For me what is of particular interest is the assertion that "There is no prospect of Joe being suitable for any form of community order owing to his chaotic lifestyle and alcoholism." This perfectly illustrates the utter mess the Probation Service finds itself in due to constant interference by successive governments. The answer in my view is quite straight forward and if I was the Court Duty Officer I would recommend a Probation Order for 12 months. I think we all know this makes common sense and in great measure is what probation was all about when I started out, but in those days of course I had almost complete discretion in the way I carried out my work; was subject only to 'guidance' not National Standards; probation was an alternative not a sentence and the management mantra 'resources follow risk' had not been invented - oh and we didn't have bloody OASys.
Those with long memories will recall that when initially instituted, a period of probation was not a punishment or sentence of the court at all - the defendant had to admit guilt and then agree to be placed on probation and promise to be of good behaviour for the given period. They were being given a chance to reform with the help of an allocated Probation Officer and they promised to see that officer when requested either at the office or at home. Failure to comply might mean a return to court and the possibility of being re-sentenced. The Probation Officers role was to 'advise, assist and befriend' the probationer, thus encouraging the good behaviour expected during the probationary period. A very simple concept that worked well for years, was widely understood by most, but one that has been comprehensively screwed up so that society sadly now has no way of dealing with Joe, other than sending him to prison. Progress?