Friday, 9 December 2011

Some Answers

My suggestion that readers might like to ask some questions has already produced a very interesting clutch, together with some truly thought-provoking comment. I'm really grateful you've all taken the time and it's had the desired effect of stirring me from a temporary stupor. I intend to respond to all contributions, but some are going to take a bit of time to ponder over, especially those that require a bit of self analysis. (By the way I had never noticed that I've been mispelling Inspector Gadget continuously - freudian slip or just poor spelling?). So thanks everyone - keep them coming and in no particular order, here's some answers. Lets start with a belter from a fellow blogger and magistrate:-

Do your colleagues have training commensurate with their responsibilities?

In essence this seems to have been triggered by PSR authors suggesting 'a suspended term of imprisonment' or similar without first addressing whether imprisonment is appropriate or not. I agree that the issue is not just one of semantics, but rather sloppiness, or ill-judgement and not how I would approach the matter. I don't think it's the probation officer's role to say if imprisonment is appropriate or not, but rather to point out the possible effects incarceration would have and compare those with other options, including suspension in order to allow the Bench to make a decision. On the wider issue of training - I'm tempted to just say 'no!' But let me add that my age, background and experience leads me to marvel on a daily basis as to the difference between the world when I started out and where I find myself today in every sphere of endeavour! I'm fatalistic I'm afraid - we're just stuck with it. 

Have you ever supervised anyone that you felt was genuinely innocent? How would you supervise them in this case?  

The short answer is yes, but I'm going to highlight a distinction in terms of seriousness. Over the years there's almost certainly been a significant number of wrongful convictions that have led to people being supervised by me for offences they didn't commit. However, 'probation' hasn't always been seen as a particularly onerous or pointless process and indeed used to have some significant benefits in terms of support, guidance and practical help. Hard to believe I know, but there was a time when clients looked forward to regular sessions with their officer, so it wasn't such a great hardship having been 'wrongfully' sentenced. Some of course would openly admit to having got away with 'shedloads' of other stuff and often agreed with me that justice had merely caught up with them, if albeit 'wrongfully' lol. 

But at the other end of the scale there was the murderer doing life. It was a hideous offence and in my opinion only a very dangerous psychopath could have been responsible. Over many years, every single time I met the guy I had to ask myself, 'do I think he could have done it?' He always protested his innocence and said he was 'fitted up'. I always privately agreed, but it would have been completely unprofessional to let him know that. The best I could do was to try and follow a relatively 'neutral' path with him, but eventually he refused to see me and there was no alternative but to allow transfer of the case. As a sobering aside, no similar offences have ever come to light, as far as I am aware........  

How does resentencing work for good behaviour and bad behaviour whilst on probation? 

It's still good practice to apply to the court for early discharge of an order so as to reward good progress. However, I'll be honest and admit that I haven't always done this as having one or two successes on your books is good for the spirit and helps make up for all the hopeless and difficult ones. We're only human and early discharge would mean no more 'nice chats' and in all probability you'd get a difficult one in their place. Sadly management cottoned on to this of course and are now always pushing for early discharge and it takes a strong-willed and confident officer to resist this where it seems inappropriate. 

Seriously 'bad' behaviour as in believable threats, seriously 'kicking off' or refusal to co-operate I can honestly say I've never really encountered. However, if regarded as not manageable it would clearly involve the police, or at least a return to court citing the order as being unworkable and with a request for re-sentence. Straight forward failure to attend appointments would lead to a return to court for breach, but not necessarily a request for revocation and re-sentencing. Most of us still believe in people being capable of change and learning from mistakes or poor judgement, and with redemption always as a possibility!  

More answers to follow shortly.


  1. Hurrah - after years of Sentence Plan models from NOMS Centre have fallen in and out of fashion, Inspector Gadget has come up with a virtually universal SMART Plan template.

    1. Encourage everyone in the family to get up in the morning and go to school or work, even if it is voluntary work.

    2. Stop chain-smoking, eating junk food, drinking an excess of alcohol and watching TV all day. Get some exercise.

    3. Stop using violence as your immediate default position whenever anything or anyone challenges you.

    4. Stop randomly having children you cannot afford and then expecting the state to raise them for you.

    5. Stop stealing, beating people up (usually each other) defrauding the benefits system and using drugs.

    Cut and paste into OASys as you see fit. Tee hee.

  2. Yes it made me chuckle when I read it. Seems to fit the new 'desistance' agenda too!

  3. C’mon Jim, we are now on tenterhooks. How about this for a start? The problems associated with repeat offending stem from a lack of intrusive action. We seem to have developed into a nation of handwringers, muttering ‘Something has to be done’ and doing anything forthright, like sending someone to prison or simply saying ‘No’ is seen as overreaction. I certainly do not believe all I read, especially from drivel such as The Guardian, but you can identify each time a child in local authority care is abused there will be a litany of failure to ensure safety and compliance. Missed appointments, assurances given to Social Workers that are taken on faith and not checked on multiple occasions, a lack of willingness to face up to aggressive and abusive individuals all feature on a regular basis. The case of Baby P is a classic, with the person in charge of the unit apparently having no input to the core business, which must be the safety of those under supervision. She received @£100,000 / annum for what, exactly? Really good meetings, exciting charts and graphs, stunning action plans that no-one was obliged to fulfil? We seem to have created an entire level of supervision that do not supervise and have no responsibility.