The following happened several years ago when probation officers still enjoyed a mixed bag of cases to supervise, by which I mean we were not restricted to just high risk cases, but some that might have a significant 'welfare' dimension as well. It was also a time when typically you would have written the PSR, decided what the key issues were, what the recommendation would be, how the supervision plan would look and would have taken the case when sentence was passed. All this was regarded as completely normal and in fact was extremely good practice for the time. The ground work had been done, building a relationship had started and the person wasn't passed around like a parcel. Sadly it is most unusual nowadays if the author of a report subsequently ends up supervising the case. But that's another story.
The client in question was a young woman of about nineteen years of age. She had lost touch with her family, been in care, suffered sexual abuse, had a string of unsuitable boyfriends who introduced her to heroin and had already accumulated an offending history that had led to several periods in custody. This is a scenario that will still be very familiar to probation officers nationwide and usually signals a rapidly descending spiral of decline. If I remember correctly I interviewed her on remand for a whole string of shoplifting offences whilst on licence.
The young woman was homeless and in a sense the report was fairly easy to write because the disposal appeared so obvious to me. She clearly needed help and a Probation Order seemed the most appropriate way to try and give her a fresh start, as long as a hostel place could be arranged. I felt it appropriate to attend court on this occasion so as to be able to convey her to the hostel if an Order was made. It duly was about 3pm, but unfortunately no provision had been made by the prison to supply a methadone script so that her treatment could continue straight away when released. This is not that unusual, even though prisoners attending court are routinely 'discharged' with their belongings. It represents but one of those very irritating lack of joined-up parts of the Criminal Justice System.
We arrived at the hostel at about 4pm and I stayed to chat with the staff and make sure she settled in ok. I remember we were in the middle of a conversation in her room when she suddenly announced 'Look Jim you're a nice bloke, but if I you don't give me a lift into town now so I can graft it'll be too late.' It's one of those absolutely classic defining moments in your career. What the hell do you do? There was no hope of getting any methodone legitimately at that time of day. This woman is going to be 'rattling' shortly and could only think about how to avoid it. She had told me too much information and was effectively inviting me, her probation officer, to assist in the commission of criminal activity by giving her a lift into town. My career could be ending with a headline in the local paper. I could refuse, give her a lecture or worse in my view, money. Of course parents of drug-using children are often faced with a similar dilemma. Throw them out, or give them money for drugs.
This is a difficult job at the best of times and sometimes decisions are just not clearcut. I had to carry on working with this person and help her turn her life around. In order to try and fulfill that longer term aim, my decision was to reluctantly give her that lift on this occasion.