Friday, 2 November 2012

OASys Won't Help

Which ever probation officer has been given the very unenviable task of writing the PSR on Ezekiel McCarthy would be well advised to forget using OASys in my humble opinion, for I'm absolutely sure it will be of no assistance at all.

Despite this, I note that the Press Association reports from the Old Bailey state that His Honour Judge Peter Beaumont, the Recorder of London, wants the man's 'dangerousness' assessing as part of an 'all options' PSR by December 4th.

By all accounts it's a tragically sad case involving 84 year-old Mr McCarthy mistaking his nephew for a burglar and as a consequence stabbing him in the liver. The nephew died three days later and the Court accepted a plea of guilty to Manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. Medical reports stated that at the time Mr McCarthy had 'suffered an acute episode of delirium or confusion brought about by medical conditions linked to his age.'

So, what on earth might society feel was an appropriate way of dealing with possibly the oldest defendant ever to appear at the Central Criminal Court? How on earth might OASys, a computer programme, assist in helping determine the level of dangerousness he might pose? 

At this point I think it's worth noting that at NAPO's recent AGM in Torquay, a motion advocating a campaign for the reintroduction of the straight Probation Order was defeated, broadly on the grounds that the public would find such an argument for what was essentially a welfare-type order difficult to understand. I think it would be fair to say that the government would not be likely to be sympathetic either at the present time! 

Since famously becoming a 'law enforcement' agency some time ago, the mantra in probation has been 'resources follow risk.' I've never accepted this and in fact I'm on record as saying I think it's bollocks. A wise society would do well to acknowledge that some people's offending behaviour just doesn't fit neatly into any OASys ordained box. Sometimes there are just over-whelming welfare issues and if probation doesn't tackle them, which other agency will? 

In the past and in such cases when courts felt stumped as what to do, there was always the option of the all-embracing generic Probation Order of up to 3 years. However, such has been the move away from this kind of mindset that apparently in West Yorkshire staff are currently forbidden from suggesting the modern equivalent Community Order with Supervision only. My hunch is that the Recorder of London will deal with the case appropriately having regard to welfare issues.    


  1. Jim,

    I also noted the tragic case in the press & like you sense that the Recorder will pay due regard to welfare issues in sentencing.. recall when I was a PO ( pre-Oasys!) in same part of London, similiar case when client reported directly from the his flat which was scene of a fatal stabbing & dealing with the disturbing aftermath...

    As for stand alone PO's.. I have as you will be aware steadfastly supported the retention of this...( inc recent AGM motion)..

    Strange times indeed..Steve Collett ( ex-CPO) ..shameful day for PS with Serco taking over CP in London( 31/10/12).. & heartening support for Probation from friends in the HoL discussing Courts Bill...



    1. Mike,

      Thanks as always for pointing me in important and informative directions like the recent House of Lords debate. I will try and make sense of the Hansard transcript.



  2. TheUrbaneGorilla2 November 2012 at 16:30

    "a campaign for the reintroduction of the straight Probation Order was defeated, broadly on the grounds that the public would find such an argument for what was essentially a welfare-type order difficult to understand." I'm not too sure that our assessment of the public mood is correct. A "welfare-type order" might not play well with the Sun or the Daily Heil but,in my time, I've done quite a few talks on Probation to community organsiations. Invariably their initial attitude is fairly combative but they are always prepared to listen and it's always ended well, with a vote of thanks and appreciation for the difficult job we do. If Probation had a wider public profile we might feel more confident.

  3. OASys does not force a reccomendation for a sentence type. If the courts have ordered an all options PSR to address dangerousness, then any Probation officer would not find the man dangerous (making the assumption he has not commited a previous violent offence). OASys does not dictate if a person is dangerous, the assesor does by using set guidelines which dictate that a variety of features must be present for this assesment to be made.
    Dont get me wrong, I am not a fan of OASys but its a myth that it dictates everything we do.
    Most areas do not allow officers to recommend a straight com sentence with supervision unless there are mitigating circumstances and then we need line managers approval.