Now I've had chance to reflect on the BBC1 fly-on-the-wall documentary 'out of jail and on the streets', I'm tempted to pass a few comments. It's on i-player here and a news item can be found here.
First off I think it confirms what many of us have suspected, namely that there's plenty of interesting story lines to have a go at. The production company did a good job and I think the edited version tries to be fair in terms of how the 'protagonists' are portrayed. Clients, bless 'em, just tend to say what they think with little or no insight into the irony of some of it, like the rapist who can't see what the problem is in 'going round to collect some things' from an ex whilst 'high' at 2 in the morning. Recall was entirely appropriate in my view.
The sex offenders featured in the programme give a flavour of what sort of issues probation face in supervising them in the community, but I'd have been happier had I seen some evidence of SOTP courses either whilst in prison or as licence conditions. It's no good just monitoring, we also have to be doing some work that seeks to address the often distorted reasoning that lies behind behaviour. I'm probably being grossly unfair on a programme of only an hour's duration and without sight of the files, so I guess I'm making a case for a long-overdue series.
As has been highlighted by a commentator to this blog, one danger in a programme like this is that the film crew will record the interview between officer and client, then get the client on their own to say 'what they really' think. So it was that we learnt that Dave regards it all as a 'game of cat and mouse' when 'messing' with probation and 'they only want to set us up to fail.'
Having been imprisoned for the drunken joint kidnap of a guy, who is then tortured into supplying further alcohol, Dave explains with not untypical twisted logic that the offence wasn't alcohol-related - 'I just do bad things and the alcohol helps me to forget.' In the process of course he completely confirms the accuracy of his supervision plan that seeks to restrict his alcohol intake. One wonders again though what work was done with him whilst in prison, and indeed why there appears to be no licence requirement to attend an alcohol-offending programme?
To be honest Dave did bother me because the team appeared not to know him. I wonder at what point the public protection team picked up the case and who if anyone visited him in prison? I've said it before and I say it again. In my book best practice is for the PSR author to see the case right through from initial interview to end-of-licence. This guy is going to need a fair amount of work and he needs the stability and consistency of an officer who gets to know him over time. Recall was sadly inevitable.
I think the point about the relationship between officer and client is admirably borne out by the sad case of Roger and his officer Vicky. What struck me most about this was that Vicky felt obliged to pass comment on the amount of care and work she had expended on her clients behalf. You just know that she was somehow made to feel a little uncomfortable about 'going the extra mile' and I find that very unfortunate indeed.
The officer should not be made to feel like that because I think most people can see that it all makes complete sense. Public protection cannot come 'just' from monitoring - G4S could do that heaven forfend - real public protection and effective rehabilitation comes from changing attitudes and fixing problems as well, and that takes compassion, skill and experience. To me this programme began to give us a sense of the magic that is indeed 'probation.' A good start, so more please BBC!
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