Thursday, 29 December 2011

Probation Exceeding Targets - Shock!

I wouldn't normally be bothered expending time discussing statistics, let alone targets, as life is just too short and we are all familiar with the refrain that there's "lies, damned lies and statistics." However, seeing as Inspector Gadget has raised the issue, I think it's only fair to respond. In a post entitled 'Ruralshire Probation Service in melt down - SHOCK!' he says:-

"More than 43,000 offenders given community sentences have breached them in the past year.
A total of 43,521 criminals had to be tracked down and sentenced again in the year to July 2011.
Around 23,750 offenders failed to comply with simple punishments such as doing unpaid work.
Another 19,741 committed further crimes during their non-custodial sentences."

Well I've been looking at the National Offender Management Service Annual Report - a hefty tome at 115 pages, but on page 42 it states:-

"Orders and licences successfully completed (national KPI)

This is an indicator of offender compliance which measures orders and licences at their point of termination. It shows the proportion of these that have terminated successfully, i.e. which have run their full course without being revoked for breach or a further offence or have been revoked for good progress.

Target: To ensure that at least 72 per cent of orders and licences are successfully completed in 2010/11

Result: 76 per cent of orders and licences were successfully completed" 

It goes on to say that the the figure has risen consistently from 2008/9 from 72 per cent. Meanwhile Inspector Gadget goes on to make the following assertion:-

"In Ruralshire, offenders often wait so long for their first appointment after sentencing that their sentence has actually ended before they get to sit in front of  a probation officer."

Indeed this statement is repeated twice for emphasis. Administrative oversights and errors occur in every organisation, but all I can say is that I simply don't recognise the validity of such a sweeping assertion and would be very interested to hear of some evidence to support it.

The post concludes by saying:-

"All of this stuff adds to the general feeling of a lack of consequences for the criminal underclass."

I might have some sympathy with this view were it not that prison numbers continue to stand at an all-time historical high.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

It's That Time of Year Again

Having at last done my bit for the economy, met all deadlines, achieved all targets and caught up with most colleagues and friends, it's time to batten down the hatches, steady the nerves and prepare for several days of over-indulgence.

To all my readers, old and new, I wish you a happy Christmas and a great New Year. I have reason to feel that 2012 will signal renewed enthusiasm for the written word with one or two new thoughts and comments to add to the whole criminal justice debate. For a kick-off, don't miss the long-awaited three part BBC 1 probation drama 'Public Enemies' due for screening on January 2nd, 3rd and 4th. Apparently Harry Fletcher from NAPO has given the production company some advice. I wonder what it was and if they took any notice........?

Cheers for now,


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.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Wot no posts?!

Regular readers will be aware that there has been a deafening silence since Armistice Day. There's no particular significance in that, but I thought I ought to say something in case anyone was wondering about my well being. The truth is that I seem to have run out of things to say - or at least new things. I really don't want to be endlessly repeating myself, so it would appear that a natural break has occurred. Oh, and I did attract the attention of 'spammers' which can be very dispiriting.

Maybe it's the weather, the time of year, a reaction to circumstances or just the inevitable function of the passage of time, but I seem to be once again depressed by the state probation finds itself in. In truth there are times when I am just overwhelmed by the crass stupidity of so called changes, efficiencies and improvements. The ridiculous nomenclature that labels offices as 'service delivery units' and management initiatives that seek to re-invent the wheel such as evidenced by the latest fad, 'destistance' theory. As if we hadn't been doing that all along!

I guess I'm just fed up - and in this festive season, I'm spending more time on one of my favourite hobbies - sinking good beer in great pubs with friends. I'm sure something will eventually grab my attention and encourage words to flow. For a start, there's episode 5 of 'What does a Probation Officer do? But in the mean time I'd like to leave readers with an idea. How about posing some questions and I have a stab at providing some answers?

Cheers for now,