I tend to be a man of routine. The radio comes on at 5.15 each day and of course is tuned to BBC Radio 4. Saturday's are a bit different because by 5.45 it's not the usual Farming Today, it's iPM and the main contributor yesterday was Lydia Guthrie speaking of her work with sex offenders.
Now I suspect that as with most aspects of probation work, the general public has only the vaguest notion of the challenges this group poses us and how we go about trying to ensure that the public is protected from any possible further and similar offending.
I had not heard of Lydia before, but she seems to have risen pretty quickly up the ranks at Thames Valley Probation having qualified in 1998. She specialised in sex offender work, becoming their Treatment Manager and then progressed to the dizzying heights of Co-Lead National Trainer for Sexual Offending Groupwork Programmes, presumably at NOMS HQ.
Clearly she is an expert in this field and presumably has been highly influential in the development and operation of accredited SOTP throughout the probation and prison service in recent years. It was not always like this of course and I have previously written of my own involvement in a small part-time project developed by colleagues in-house. Sadly in my view, all were swept away when the accredited and highly-proscribed courses were introduced some years ago now.
Given this, clearly it could be said I that I came to listen to Lydia with some pre-conceived thoughts as I've always been critical of the new courses as being a one-size-fits-all approach, in stark contrast to our own very-much individually-tailored efforts. In particular my experience has taught me that unless perpetrators are given the time and space to talk about their own often very troubled past first, it is pointless and counter-productive to force them to discuss their offending behaviour.
I think they have a right to be listened to as victims themselves, and before progress can be made in getting them to critically analyse the fact that they have gone on to create more victims. In my experience they are hardly ever regarded as having possibly been victims, and has never formed part of current accredited SOTP work. To be honest I think it's a big mistake and helps foster resentment and much unhelpful anger and resistance in many clients.
To be honest I also find the whole nomenclature surrounding current SOTP to be unhelpful with references to 'Treatment' Managers and it being 'delivered' in two hour chunks over a 200 hour programme. It's so symptomatic of a process-driven policy, rather than one that should be person-centred. Thinking how it might feel as a recipient, it would annoy me greatly. I want to be 'treated' as an individual and I think most people do.
It came as no great surprise therefore to hear Lydia skirt around these issues when asked questions as to the reasons people commit sex offences and how repeat offending might be prevented. It was good though to hear her discuss the fact that many offenders have sexual preferences that include children and that such inclinations have to be challenged continually, but it was disappointing to say the least that probation hardly got a mention at all as having a role in on-going monitoring. Instead we heard that 'the police should have every means at their disposal to ensure we knew where they were 24/7 and that probably meant satellite tracking.'
Such monitoring has it's place of course, but virtually all licences eventually come to an end and the most effective way in which the public can be protected in the long-term depends on the quality of the work that has been undertaken with each sex offender. I remain unconvinced that the present extremely proscribed methodology is best, despite what the evidence might indicate.
For a start we all know that there are significant numbers of sex offenders that are not suitable for standard SOTP either because of their denial, ability to manipulate or level of intellectual functioning. Any evidence of re-offending rates could be as a result of any number of factors, not just SOTP completion and might include involvement by Circles of Accountability and Support for instance.
In a nutshell what this says to me is that SOTP as presently organised is not the best, or should be regarded as the only approach and that it can never replace individually-tailored work and interventions by highly-trained and experienced probation officers.
Sign the No10 petition here.