Friday, 1 February 2013

Out of Jail and On the Streets

In a break with my normal practice I'm going to talk about a tv programme even before it's gone to air. But then these aren't 'normal' times are they? Just as Home Secretary Theresa May has declared war on the police, so Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has declared war on probation.  At a time like this we need as much support as we can muster.

Unlike the police though, the public have never really understood what the hell probation officers do. Interestingly I gather the relatively new HM Chief Inspector of Probation Liz Calderbank doesn't think the government know what probation does either, but that's another story. 

Like most topics on here, I've touched on this subject before and have frequently bemoaned the lack of a decent tv drama series dedicated to our work. All the story lines imaginable are there, but since ATV did their 'Probation Officer' series in the 1960's, only one other, 'Hard Cases' in the 1980's has resulted. And before anyone mentions 'Public Enemies' last year, I'd rather draw a veil over that particular effort by Tony Marchant.

So if the tv industry cannot come up with a decent drama series, how about a documentary series? There have been some attempts at this over the years, but again it's always amazed me that there hasn't been a 'fly on the wall' type series, as with the police or prison service. Blimey, there's even an eight-parter on planners now! 

As much as anything, I think I put this down to our innate desire to respect our clients and not breach their entitlement to confidentiality. It doesn't seem to hinder other agencies like the police though and it never ceases to amaze me how many participants are willing to sign away their rights, no matter what a complete arse they are shown to be on camera. 

But then the same goes for the dreadful Jeremy Kyle show. No shortage of people wanting to show themselves up in public for a fee, the sort of modern equivalent of the Victorian freak show. Very sad, but as we all know in the probation service, we take the principle of confidentiality very seriously indeed, and go out of our way to try and discourage clients from presenting themselves in an even more negative light. 

As an aside, I think our profession can take some pride in noting that to date I'm not aware of any evidence of probation staff leaking client information to the media, as alleged with other public officials swept up in Operation Elvedon. 

Anyway, with superb timing in the middle of the government's probation consultation, we learn that BBC1 is going to screen a 'fly on the wall' documentary next Tuesday 5th February at 10.35pm. Only a one-off hour, but better than nothing. A Brighton-based tv company Lambent Productions spent several months filming the work of their local probation public protection team and, according to insiders who have had a sneak preview, we will be impressed.

I really do hope so because we've been let down before. Probation may be a relatively simple concept to those of us insiders, but we also know it's delivery can be complex and necessarily nuanced on occasion. Linda Kelly, one of the probation officers being filmed says:- 

"We became skilled at manoeuvring ourselves in and out of the microphone paraphernalia without too much loss of dignity and I will only admit to a few negative thoughts about what they could do with the camera as it was thrust in front of me yet again, particularly challenging in the middle of a recall.  I think all things considered we maintained our sense of humour, film crew included, although we often had to dig deep to retrieve it!"  

"The pressure to ensure that I did not let anyone down weighed heavy at times.  Would I do it all again? Absolutely - who would not want the opportunity to showcase the frustratingly often-unseen work that as skilled and dedicated practitioners we do every day to ensure that the public remains protected?"

"Did we achieve that aim? I will let you be the judge of that!"

PS 6/02/2013 - to see my thoughts on the programme, go here 'Out of Jail and On the Streets - Verdict' and to sign the petition go here.


  1. Hi Jim. I understand your frustration, but don't get too excited: despite, or perhaps because of the huge number of TV programmes dedicated to the police, I still don't think the public (nor the government, but that goes without saying) have much of an idea what we actually do!

    1. I guess we've always been between a rock and a hard place.

  2. The danger of a documentary on the Probation Service is that we work with people who continually distort the truth. We somehow accept that, and work with it without destroying our working relationship with our non-angelic clients. A film crew would have a field day though. Imagine what would happen to public opinion when they film someone telling their PO how well he is doing not drinking in the lasst two weeks and then the film crew show him cracking open a can of Special Brew whilst waiting for the taxi to take him to sign on. There is a reason we worked under the radar and haven't advertsided our work, and that reason is that to public opinion the way we work is often unpalatable and we appear naive. Hope the upcoming 30 mins refelcts us in a good light, but I will be watching from behind a curtain. Great blog Jim. keep it up.

    1. Lol - yes a very good point. As I said, the work is often complex and of necessity has be nuanced....lets hold our breath and keep our fingers crossed!

  3. Hi, I hope you watched the film. It was very sensitively handled and both the probation service and clients came out well.

    1. Yes I have watched the programme and penned some thoughts today under 'Out of Jail and On the Streets - Verdict'

      Thanks for commenting,