Friday, 6 February 2015

Guest Blog 23

What IS a vocation?

On Sunday, 1st Feb (Bleak Futures) I read a comment - 12:16, which declared that Probation was not a vocation, as only monks and people who messed up your benefits had vocations. Sadly I have to disagree. It is my understanding that the word means having a commitment and dedication to do your best with the service which you provide, prioritising the purpose of your work to assist/benefit others, rather than yourself, and knowing that you have been of some worth, (rather than being controlling and overbearing, putting yourself first).

I responded with these comments on Sunday, which were too long for the comments box to process and so I left it. But having read a Guest Blog on Wed, 4/2, I believe, with a very similar theme of commitment to the job, and also today's Blog (Thur) from a dissatisfied client, I am inspired to attempt to send it again, as a blog, with updates.

I came into Probation to help people sort out their lives, and thereby reduce victims. I had a background of working with disaffected young people, and working with charities and community organisations, and schools, before I became a PO at 48, and always gave my all, despite the irritation, indeed anger, at times, of my long-suffering husband.

Even after computers and targets took over our lives, I did not reduce the amount of time I spent on clients, and their victims, to support, to challenge respectfully, to encourage change of attitudes, and to listen. If you can do nothing else, you can listen. One female victim of a domestic violence client, who I would talk to in her home, prior to her terminating their relationship, brought in chocs and a card for me after her now ex-partner's Order had finished. I wasn't in the office, so didn't see her, but was very moved by her simple words on the card, 'thank you for listening'.

Incidentally, I note today's Guest blog (Thur 5/2), in a sadly disillusioned disclosure of his opinion of PO's, castigated Jim's use of the word 'challenge'. But we do, all the time, to get the client to look at the bad things they have been involved in, how it has made them feel, and how they think they might be able to change things - 'what made you offend?' is a challenge. 'Tell me why do you believe that?' is a challenge. 'Can you think of any reasons why...?' or 'what do you think your partner, mum, child, mate, would have felt....?' 'What would you ideally want to happen...?' 'how did you get into drugs?' The list is endless, adapted for every individual. And we listen, and encourage clients to reflect on what they have said. And again, I say, that to address the problem, you need to explore the causes, and I would often see the confused, frightened child, when I saw the adult.

As I have also said before on this blog, it takes time to get damaged, angry, frightened, arrogant, confused, resentful people, often society's rejects, to trust you and to open up and interact on personal, sometimes historic, repressed issues, and then there is all the practical work which eats up the minutes/hours - fighting officialdom, finding half-decent accommodation, employment, money, drugs, health and mental health, avoiding breach or recall and the temptation of 'old friends', and so on.

All this takes time and and as a result, I was one of the first in my area, to end up being investigated, in a new emphasis on Capability Procedures in 2005, because I was falling behind in some of my computerised recordings. But after a few months of wasting everyone's time, HR and above seemed to realise that NO ONE worth their salt was up to date, and they stopped using Capability for all but those significantly failing in aspects of their work, before it quietly vanished altogether.

My work, and that of colleagues, included frequent contact with public services, agencies, charities, health services, and persuading the likes of the Benefit Agency to take me seriously, when they would not listen to clients' genuine issues. Like the PO in Wednesday's blog I rarely worked less than 45 hours a week, and in my last 12-18 months, I was working up to 70 hours in periods of crisis! I never shortened time spent with clients, I stretched my time at work.

I don't consider myself a martyr, I resented it often. That's just how long it took to give clients the time required, they came first, and to try to keep up with recording and reports. My colleagues had said, years before I retired, that 'if you retired today, but got paid until you were 65, the Service would still owe you money.' And I was certainly not the only one who worked long hours. And when I retired, I left with 8 days annual leave not taken.

I was seen as a rebel, a battler, an oddball, a dinosaur, a fool by some. I was almost always the last one to leave the office, locking up, checking windows and computers etc, and also mostly the first one in the next morning, unlocking doors and cupboards. I would do spontaneous home visits - no warning, often after work and breaking all the rules, fearing nothing and always believing it would never happen to me, and it never did, even though I had been threatened a number of times by high risk offenders, who invariably backed down or returned to custody.

I have said this in a Blog comment before, that my ACPO, as the divisional managers were called then, said to me once - 'you are doing some amazing work, with the nastiest, most dangerous of people, which no other officer will go near...'. Indeed, my very unorthodox treatment, with those I trusted would not harm me, was to calm down distressed clients with a hug, if appropriate, even once hugging a large 30+ distressed man who had run out of my office into the corridor in hysterics, after finally disclosing childhood horrors following years of silence, and he turned into a dead end in the corridor in his panic, sobbing and squealing. But he did calm down as I held him, with my manager and half the staff standing in the corridor, staring at us. And I was never warned or reprimanded. But I would not recommend it unless you had a trusting relationship, and even then......

Staff and family would say that the job was not a job to me, but a vocation, (as it also was for some other wonderful staff) and that when I retired I would collapse. I refused to go off sick, even when I broke a bone in my foot - at work! - and was plastered up to the thigh for 2 months, and my hand in plaster several years later, for 6 weeks, with only my thumb visible. I learned to hit the right hand keys with a pencil jabbed between my thumb and the plaster, and drive a car, manipulating the clutch from the hip, as I couldn't bend my knee. As my 65th birthday fell the day before the law changed, to enable women to work beyond 65, I applied to do so, but my manager told me, and the ACO who had asked her opinion, that given the effort I put into the job, she was concerned that she would come in one morning and find me dead at my desk! And she therefore felt it would be irresponsible to let me work beyond 65.

I'm not bragging. I was a stubborn, foolish risk taker. I thought I knew best. I WAS a headache to manage at times (one manager in the 90's told me kindly, but in exasperation, that 'you listen to what you should do, nod your head, then go away and do it your way' - in my endeavours to help people), a nuisance to senior management, a curious dodo to colleagues, caused my family despair at times, and often put myself at risk in my belief that I was untouchable and could calm down most people. I don't ever remember being frightened. I don't know if that's a good thing.

But I loved the job fervently, and I was liked and genuinely respected, I think, and many colleagues still keep in touch, even an admin officer (at that time called clericals) who emigrated to Oz in 2000, (meeting up when she came over for a visit last year), and our office cleaner (or whatever pc word is used now). I have even maintained phone and e-mail contact with some ex-clients, and have been invited to one man's wedding (I got to know his partner well when he was on an Order), and have been emailed photos of their baby. Now THAT is very satisfying.

But yes, my vocation caused me to collapse 5 days after I left work, as I was getting ready for my leaving do. I managed to get there, aching and burning all over, before I became really ill, and so weak for several weeks, lying on the settee to watch Kate and Will's wedding - that I thought I had M.E. My GP diagnosed extreme adrenalin drop, as I had survived on the stuff for years. But I recovered, and am still passionately fighting for Probation, its staff, and its clients, and their families. But I'm now also actively involved with charitable organisations and spending quality time with the best grandson in the world!! And am glad that I retired at 65, and have never had to witness the death of a grand old lady?/man?

Was it worth it? Yes! I loved the job which took over my life. I know I was able to help many people regain a bit of pride in themselves, and I do often wonder how so and so is doing, and feel so sad if I see them named in the local paper for further offences. I remember the distress of some when their Order ended, but I would always remain professional when they spoke of me as being their friend. I would always say 'I am NOT, and never can be your friend, but I AM your Probation Officer, and will do all I can to help you sort out your life'.

And I apologise to those out there who must be thinking 'what a smug bastard she is'. But I believe THAT is what having a vocation means, not about controlling people negatively or being a monk (although I am a veggie, interested in Buddhism and their philosophy!) and I can see from other blog comments that I was not, and am not, the only one, and I am sad that anon 12:16 believes otherwise.

As does the Blog Guest today 5/2 to whom I can only say - ' I can only ask that you try to understand that for over a year now, 'floor staff' have been tossed about, many with huge case loads, some working outside of their specific skills zone, and seeing the floor collapse underneath them, asking many questions but getting no answers. And no one can forecast the future, now that it is under new management. The days I am recalling may indeed have gone forever, but don't blame PO's. I know there are a lot of committed and empathetic staff, all of whom would love to have quality time with their clients again. I know, I have seen them interact sensitively with every type of offender, and please accept, that some are very trying, time consuming and indeed dangerous. Working intensively with a whole range of people who need support is demanding. A Service collapsing around them, with systems which don't work, makes it so much harder.

This is a significant and sad day to write this - the original comment was written on 1/2/15, with additions today 5/2.

Good luck and love to you all, and a nod to fellow ancient rebel and social thinker Bob Dylan - The times, they are indeed a'changing.

Bye Probation. Long live Probation. x

Mgt L


  1. I've heard these tales of yore before, indeed if you had been my probation officer perhaps I wouldn't be coming here at all.

    I have had experience of both Social Workers and Probation Officers and the gulf in class is vastly tangible, why anybody would sooner be in Probation is a question only their own personal uncomprehending voyeuristic sensibilities could answer.

    As a Client you can be open and honest and entirely friendily, if you ask the PO any similar questions that they'd ask you then they hide behind their "professionalism", even though they have precious little of that.

    The best people left long ago and this blog is indicative of that fact.

    1. Before anyone else says it, I'll chip in and say comments like this add absolutely nothing to a reasoned discussion are designed to inflame and quite frankly are getting a tad boring. I'm sorely reminded of the infamous Soho pub landlord dubbed the rudest in London who was known to bar customers he deemed were boring.

    2. Bar me then Jim, curtail my free-speech.

      You are only uncomfortable because it hits a nerve.

    3. I can't bar anyone, even for being boring, I can only instigate comment moderation. I have said it before and say it again. Reasoned discussion is welcomed, but I will not let the blog descend into pointless trading of insults. Free speech is different my friend and nerves are being touched all the time.

    4. You're lucky it's only your job then, imagine your personal life being ego masturbated on by some under qualified overzealous colleague, I'm sure you know the type.

    5. I have been both a social worker and a probation officer. For me the expectation to work with a dual agenda; so to establish a supposed open, honest and trusting working relationship whilst gathering whatever evidence was needed to make decisions that would be significant, extremely so, for individuals and families was always greater within social work. In part, it is why I left and chose to become a Probation Officer

      Excellent blog by the way. I have worked with some colleagues who were very similar.

      The job has changed... and I do say "job" now. Sadly, I have lost the sense of it being my career or profession let alone vocation. It was once, for a long time. I don't want to see my colleagues crying out of sheer frustration at the impossibility of what we are being asked to do. I don't want to feel so angry at how I feel I am treated more days than not by my employer but I will continue to do my job to the best of my ability.

      Oh, and just because you think you have worked out why you do something and what you need to do to avoid such situations in the future doesn't necessarily mean that you are right or that you can do it without support. That is the case for all us.

  2. Probation Officer6 February 2015 at 08:06

    Good blog. There are many of us left still working with these values. Young and old alike (I'm in the middle) we are hear to do a good job in improving quality of life as our vocation requires us too.

    1. You are being used.

    2. "You are being used." Kindly explain.

    3. Bad practice relies on those convinced they are doing things for the greater good.

      Look back over this blog, you have several years worth of reasons as to why you are promoting bad practice.

      Wont stop your delusions.

    4. Bad and good practice exist everywhere and it would be naive to think otherwise.

    5. Yeah and it's always a 50/50 split would be even more naive don't ya think?

      Like the accusations towards MOJ, NOMS, Grayling it's all about the ££££. Good practice is a afterthought, so long as you're paid you will uphold any old crap.

      I'm pleased for the PO's who are still young enough to change.

    6. Not everyone that reads this blog is a probation officer. Some are service users or just members of the general public.
      I'm not a probation officer, and I'm finding your comments are pretty offensive and boring. I personally fell it's 'self loathing', and you're attempting to transfer those feeling to others. If everyone feels bad you can feel better.
      I have no doubt that your continued experiences with probation will be problematic and uncomfortable, regardless of who your OM may be, or whatever their approch may be.
      I doubt that your only gripe is to seen and treated as a human being, I think you want to be seen as a particular 'type' of human being. A little bit better then the average client, a little more important maybe.
      I have a sneaky feeling that the real issue for you is that you don't particullary like yourself, and need others to constantly identify the 'good' qualities that you have to reassure you that even though you yourself can't find them, others can see them, ergo- you must possess them.
      Like I say, I'm not a probation officer, but I think your comments regardless of being offensive are a little bit to me me me.
      Thats only my opinion by the way, but as you point out a lot, its important to be able to take on other peoples opinions. It's part of being a human being.


  3. I was wondering about having contact with Clients outside the service? Are there rules about this? Or is it up to the Probation staff?

    1. You have to declare any relationship, then you will have your access to Oasys/Delius/electronic file removed and will be subject to disciplinary action if you attempt to influence or otherwise interfere with the management of the case. Failure to declare can lead to dismissal - which has happened to 2 women I know personally, one of whom also got 4 months for taking drugs into prison for her new 'friend'. Tread very carefully. Tony.

  4. If you meant contact outside the professional relationship or contact that is not recorded as service user contact or keeps confidences outside that relationship then clearly it is inappropriate as I suspect you are alluding to. Is this the next nonsense to come on this blog from you? To be teased out and then further allegations made? If so you've blown it. If not, I suggest you access the website of the relevant employer to check correct procedure for reporting this.

    1. I don't think 08:10 is the same anon! lol

    2. Calm down, I'm sure you have some PSR's to write up, or don't you? I lost track...

  5. That is where you are wrong Jimbo.

    1. Regrettably comment moderation in place until further notice.

  6. Yesterday's guest post and today's guest post provide two sides of the same coin. Not every coin in the purse but a coin nonetheless. I understand why the service has been forced to change over time to appease the politicians and the monster they created in NOMS.

    I would also point out in relation to some of the points made yesterday and today that everyone is entitled to their opinion and to their experiences. It does not mean that they are in denial or self absorbed or self indulgent if they express distress and dissatisfaction over the way their experiences have affected them. Those who judge what people have said contemptuously appears to do so based on a little information rather than the whole picture. Who know, perhaps if you were in that individual's shoes and had experienced what they had you would feel exactly as they do. It is very easy to pass judgement on someone looking at them and their lives from the comfort of your own position as Simon Garden did on yesterday's post.

    From my own perspective on the probation experience, I have had 29 "client supervision sessions" with two different PO's in the past 13 months ranging from 6 1/2 minutes (I have to cut this short as its someone's leaving do) to 34 minutes (sentence planning session) in length. All of them were basically a tick box exercise that realistically I could have done with a kiosk. The only person who has kept me on the straight and narrow has been me. Absolutely none of my achievements in getting accommodation or work and getting my life back on track have been down to probation. I haven't been challenged in any way as its clear my PO simply wants to get me in and out of the office as quickly as possible and like Probation Client yesterday has zero interest in engaging with me on any level. I have to therefore question the amount of tax payer's resources that are being used on my "supervision". A kiosk would be far most cost effective and the benefit would be exactly the same.

    1. Well said Anon 10:22.

      You have successfully articulated my exact point into a nut shell.

      Unemployed? Refer to unemployment service. TICK.

      Homeless? Refer to accommodation service. TICK.

      Thankyou, now come again next week/month and we'll do the same thing again.

    2. A kiosk is a 'reporting centre' for the digital age. Not everyone who is subject to statutory supervision needs actual probation supervision, as they may well possess all the attributes and resources to self-rehabilitate. With such individuals if it feels like a tick box exercise, that's because it is. However, a kiosk will not advocate on your behalf with a benefits agency or a housing department: it will not assist you to access mental health or drug and alcohol support; it will not support your release from prison on licence or find you suitable accommodation. You can fit a kiosk into probation but you cannot fit all of what probation does into a kiosk.

  7. I'm a Probation Officer. I haven't got any jobs and I haven't got any houses. Sorry about that.

  8. If you cannot extend the hand of friendship then what good are you? Get out of the way.

    Kiosks are the way forward. Far more economical and far more efficient.

    1. The way forward for what. Once sentencers het wind of it, they will start sentencing more punitively. They don't put people on Community Orders to report to a kiosk. You should be careful what you wish for because your next sentence could be custody or Unpaid Work. As someone who writes PSRs, if that is how I think people will be processed in a CRC, then I will propose something else.

      I can see a culture developing in Magistrates Courts where they will ignore standalone Community Orders if they stop valuing them, and sentence to short spells of custody with the mandatory twelve months supervision - maybe then people can report to kiosks. Like I said, be careful what you wish for.

  9. As probation officers our time is not limitless - unless you work as the guest blogger did then there is no way we can give all our clients all the support they need. As such, we have to assess who needs our time the most and allocate it accordingly. For some this will mean 15 minute office appointments, for others a 2 hour home visit. Above everything else, the decision of who gets what has to be made with victims in mind. That may mean that people who want help don't get enough and some who want to be left alone are not. We can't forget the victims in all of this.

    1. To add to this, kiosks are not ok because in that 15 minute we can assess if anything has changed which would lead to more time being needed with said client. We do a skilled job and you don't know the half of it. Trouble is, neither does NOMS or MOJ!

  10. I am 12:16 and stand by what I said. I don't have a vocation I have a job. A job I am good at, a job I am respected by my colleagues for, and a job that some of my clients appreciate. I don't punish people, I don't inappropriately judge people and I don't feel that Clients (yes clients) owe me respect because I have a stupid lanyard and a badge.

    I have met people with vocations on many occasions and found them often to be so busy "putting the client first" that they do things that are dangerous. I have watched people come in to "make a difference" and when the clients have not acknowledged their all round wonderfulness become punishing vindictive and judgemental. No doubt you are not one of these dear blogger.

    I have been told I have a vocation, generally by people who are trying to get me to do more for less, who want to extract a quart out of a pint pot. I have then watched (And I am choosing my words carefully here) idiots do that extra work "for the clients" (but actually I suspect, to point up their own saintlyness) and undermine attempts to ensure that the work we do is adequately resourced.

    The only time my work took over my life was when my life went down the toilet due to choices I made. I am not going there again, I have a life, work is part of it, not all of it. My family, my friends and my life are more important than my job. To paraphrase Goebels (always good to go nazi on the internet) "I hear the word Vocation and reach for my revolver"

  11. Good to quote Nazis on the internet even if I cannot spell Goebbels :-D

  12. Loving twitter this evening:
    Rebecca Herbert ‏@RebeccaHerber44 · Feb 5
    "Grayling" - verb. As in "to make a right Grayling of it"
    Meaning: To comprehensively deliberately destroy, to ruin, to devastate.

  13. To all colleagues and service users who have survived this week of chaos.......
    Have a good weekend

  14. Happy birthday Jim!

  15. Left the office at 2.35, arrived at home of client (lifer) at 3.05, didn't leave until 5.20! Totally worthwhile, meaningful and welcome; has been out 3 years and we still have conversations about his rehabilitation and what keeps him, and therefore others safe! No kiosk, no tick boxes, just a relationship we have worked hard to establish and maintain; it's not always been plain sailing but we respect each other neither of us thinks we have all the answers! 31 years in now and still motivated to do the best I can for our clients, although I cannot give all 43 the same amount of time, week in and week out they know that and we compromise and priorities accordingly! It's Friday, and I am now chillin'- after all I am just a PO not superhuman, I don't have all the answers or a magic wand! Good night all!

  16. I've got to get past this hatred of the service and coming here doesn't help me to do that.

    The main point for me is that as someone who doesn't tend to make friends very easily at all that for those PO's who were in charge of my case I happily extended the hand of friendship towards them, I talked was open and honest about my offending but it made no odds. I should have not bothered saying anything, they just tended to hear exactly what they wanted to hear in order to suit the structure that they worked in.

    I shouldn't take delight in coming here and reading about the shit storm that is apparently the Probation Service, but I have done and it doesn't make me a better person.

    So I apologise to Jim and to those whom I've het up on here, your service is very broken and it has been since way before TR. I couldn't bring myself to be a part of such a debacle, sure I caused offence to those whom I committed crimes against but I cannot help thinking that you as PO's in your line of work are going someway to further damaging the already damaged persons on your case load. Maybe that's why some of your colleagues do their job, I really would not be surprised.

    I don't really have very much of a life you see and being a part of Probation has had only a detrimental effect on me, I'm worse now than I was before I was sent there.

    So that's me over and out, I don't know about the two or three other Clients or ex-Clients that write here but I'm done. I don't know where I go from here, medication, unemployment and no friendships I'm well and truly broken and I have no energy to get out of it, it's my own fault.


    1. (Hushed tones) what you are listening to is the Attenboroughus clientis, or, to give it it's nonscientific name, the sympathy junkie. Believed to be extinct out of captivity, there have been 3 sightings on this blog in just one week. Their normal abode is, usually briefly, the high rise car park, but once they latch on to a blog, they've been known to drain it of every last drop of vitality.

      Not fucking likely, eh comrades?!.

    2. to anon 00.38- If you are saying what it sounds like - phone Samaritans. If you are pissed off with life and want to huddle in a corner- phone Samaritans. If you are lonely - phone Samaritans. They don't tell you what to do, they listen, and that may encourage you to find a solution.

      Google Samaritans - read about them. You can phone as often as you need, 24 hrs a day, with numbers available around the There is NEVER no one to help you. Look up support systems, such as Depression Alliance or Friends in Need. Google and read what's out there and what numbers you can access.

      Do something and stop hating yourself and others who don't have an instant cure.

      Good luck.

    3. I agree with ML above - seek help and I would add the suggestion of the GP. You clearly write well, so use that skill to learn more about your situation and why things have turned out as they have for you. Dialogue always helps - winding people up never does. Take care.

  17. Ooops.

    1. A 'brilliant' probation officer has been jailed after she fell in love with a prolific drug-addict burglar she was supervising - protecting him from police after another break-in and putting him up in her home.

      Criminal justice graduate Stacey Karen McCarthy, 31, of Greenford, London, has three degrees, including a Masters - but her promising career has been destroyed as she starts her twelve-month prison sentence.

      As she was jailed boyfriend Stephen Sullivan, 35, abused the investigating police officers in the public gallery, tried to head butt two of them and received six weeks imprisonment for contempt of court.

      She pleaded guilty to assisting an offender between January 30 and February 23 last year, for failing to notify the police of Sullivan's mobile phone number and allowing him to stay at her home.

      She also pleaded guilty to misconduct in public office between January 1 and February 23 last year for conducting an inappropriate relationship with Sullivan while employed as a supervising probation officer and providing him with a mobile phone.

      Prosecutor Lyall Thompson told Isleworth Crown Court today McCarthy, who was employed by the London Probation Trust since April, 2008, was Sullivan's supervising officer after his release from prison on licence for a burglary conviction.
      'He has a very lengthy conviction history and was a high-risk offender, who had completed five years on the prolific offender scheme.'

      Less than three weeks after his release on December 3, 2013 Sullivan broke in at 7.15am on December 28 to a firm that specialises in security alarms and after causing £400 worth of damage was identified by police on CCTV.

      He was circulated as wanted on the Police National Computer and as his probation officer McCarthy was asked to assist in locating him.

      On January 26, last year McCarthy activated a mobile phone and gave it to Sullivan. 'She deliberately withheld information to the police about the use of this phone and implied that it was being used by her and not Sullivan,' explained Mr. Thompson.
      'As a direct consequence police did not use cell-site analysis and an opportunity to locate and arrest him was lost.'

      While McCarthy was holidaying in Egypt in February she allowed Sullivan to live in her house and he used her Fiat car. 'This car was used in a burglary in Hertfordshire on February 17 and two associates of Sullivan were arrested.' Sullivan then ransacked four offices in Canada House, Ruislip, causing a huge amount of damage and taking a laptop.

      McCarthy was arrested when she returned from Egypt and was suspended by her bosses and Sullivan was eventually captured by police on April 14. 'When he appeared at Harrow Crown Court on the twentieth of May she talked her way into the cells to visit him, a visit she would not normally have had.' Sullivan later received two years probation with a drug rehabilitation requirement.

    2. McCarthy was questioned by police on May 28. 'She stated after her arrest she got sucked in by him and a sexual relationship began.'

      Matthew Rowcliffe defending said: 'She's always, from a young age, had a desire to understand why others get involved in crime and to steer others away from crime.' Determined McCarthy beat 'fierce competition' to land her dream job and drove through a new initiative called 'Community Hub' and kept two 'prolific offenders' out of trouble where colleagues had failed.
      She supervised 'Prolific Priority Offenders' and knew it was against the rules to have inappropriate relationships with offenders.

      'A relationship did develop despite the obvious impropriety and her actions were not carefully calculated, but were impulsive actions from a strong emotional attachment and the relationship continued.' The fact Sullivan has only failed one drug test while on probation was hailed as another success for McCarthy. 'This reflects the genuine talent Miss McCarthy has to help others change.'

      She was forced to resign her position. 'She will never be able to return to that occupation, that vocation,' added Mr Rowcliffe.
      'Given her ability and talents this case represents a grave loss to the probation service.' Judge Aidan Marron QC told her: 'You are clearly a well-educated woman from a good home and with advantages like that this should not have happened.'

      Sullivan shouted at officers as they left court: 'You're f***ing scumbags,' and was asked to return by Judge Marron, who ordered his arrest. 'I'm heartbroken, I've lost my girlfriend. Don't ruin all the good work that's been done, this could put me over the edge,' he told the judge before being handcuffed after a struggle and taken to the cells. Crack addict Sullivan, who has a two-decade old habit and has spent fourteen of the last nineteen years in custody, was brought back up and admitted contempt of court.

      Judge Marron jailed him for six weeks, explaining: 'My usual way of dealing with outbursts is to ignore them, but this I regard as being well over the top. 'It was a nasty explosion - I could see people in the public gallery were upset and you head butted two police officers.' There will be no further action against Sullivan and the judge added: 'Consider yourself very fortunate indeed.'

    3. An occupational - or vocational - hazard? (Tongue firmly in cheek). I've worked in several areas and I'm aware a fair few probation bodies in a variety of roles have fallen by the wayside in this way. Interestingly - and sadly - all examples I'm aware of that have been 'exposed' in the media are female colleagues; a number of examples of male colleagues' inappropriate relationships I've been aware of have never resulted in such public castigation. Most were asked to leave on the QT, others were redeployed or promoted out of the area in question - NONE of those men were ever subjects of stories in local or national media.

    4. An interesting point, added to which I guess the considerable gender imbalance, together with a much younger workforce, will sadly make such instances more likely I suspect. This does seem a bit of an extreme case though, not really conducive to 'pushing under the carpet' in any circumstance.....

  18. I joined the service through an interest in people who committed offences. Always there has been the question, what brought this person to this place? I too am surprised the guest blogger 5/2 had not been asked this question.

    I never expected I would stay in probation so long, especially when everything was becoming more punitive. I was aware of some officers who misused the power they had. I somewhat arrogantly thought, well if they (the clients) get me at least they wont have to deal with them! I saw my role as helping to ‘even’ up the scales which seemed to weigh heavily against most of the people (clients) I worked with.

    Well I’m still around some 30 years later, I’ve learned a lot and am still learning but haven’t had to compromise my style as much as I thought. Despite all of the changes I still work in largely the same way. I still enjoy getting to know the people I work with, I consider it an absolute privilege that they are ready to share personal aspects of their life with me. I don’t worry too much that I’m not ‘protecting the public and victims’ because I feel I am by doing what I do.

    My point is that if you are a probation officer interested in people and work in this way and have a bit of political nous, you cant just switch off and stop doing it–even when faced with negative changes and pressures. People adapt and work surreptitiously if need be in their own way. We can make even a quick meeting a respectful and human interaction to ensure the recipient doesn’t have to feel worse than they do already.

    I’m not saying abuses don’t exist, and I know that the ‘standardised ‘ job application process doesn’t weed out the dodgy ones as long as they can ‘talk the talk’; Often such people ‘talk’ their way into management roles also (as they don’t really like working with the client group) and we end up with managers who worry mostly about their own career development rather than sticking their necks out. (I think you have to take a few risks to manage risk in my view)

    I think also there has been a gradual decrease in aiming to appoint people with experience and the ability to question and think which might have enabled even more poorly equipped ones to slip through.

    I do not agree that the processes are intrinsically abusive but we do need people to think about the potential for abuses of power and I think it is still within our gift to choose not to make them so. If you believe that engaging with and forming a relationship with people trumps robotically trotting out the latest ‘worksheet’ then who is to say you cant ditch the sheet for today? (Who would know?)
    I currently work alongside other officers of different ages who have trained at different times all with different backgrounds and lengths of service. I’ve also worked with trainees. Most of these would say they came into the job through an interest in people just as I did. When I listen to my current colleagues conversations it is clear that they are interested and engaged with the people they work with. I see them applying for charity grants, thrilled when they come through on behalf of their clients, I see them carefully weighing up the issues when writing parole reports or considering recall, I see them genuinely pleased when things go right in their clients lives. I hear them patiently dealing with abusive stressed clients on telephones. I see them going to clients funerals or visiting them in hospital. In turn they learn things about them that no one else would know. This work may not be valued by NOMs- most of it is well below the radar- but it takes great skill sensitivity and commitment to work with some of the most damaged people in society. It has always been hard and has never been perfect but the TR and privatisation agenda has made every single part of the job harder and will in my view make it easier for the abuses to slip by.