Tuesday 24 January 2012

Coppers 2

The Channel 4 tv programme 'Coppers' continues to provide fascinating 'fly-on-the-wall' viewing and last night's episode devoted quite a bit of time to someone very familiar to many old-style probation officers. I suspect every town in the land still has a Danny, even though most don't make it into old age, let alone middle age. Although most officers being interviewed about Danny made it clear in typical gallows-humour style that it would do everyone a favour if he just shuffled off this mortal coil, they obviously had a soft spot for him, but were completely at a loss how to help. And why should they - they're not social workers are they? But as the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester said a year or two back, that's who he effectively employs, hundreds and hundreds of 'social workers.'

Danny and his ilk have been a problem for society for many, many years. Probably the product of a very unhappy childhood, he failed at school, started 'getting into trouble' and just couldn't make a smooth transition into independent life. A secure home, relationship and employment  all eluded him and as a result he sought refuge and comfort in alcohol and drugs from an early age. Those substances are slowly killing him, as is the weather due to living on the streets. We're told he shuns help and I have no doubt this is partly true, but what is society's answer to this social problem? Why ASBO him of course. He's banned from the whole centre of the town where he grew up and that gives police a steady job interminably re-arresting him when he inevitably breaches the ASBO. A ridiculous merry-go-round of arrest, interview, court, prison, release and back to 'go' again. 

So what's the alternative? Well it will come as no surprise to hear that Danny used to be the responsibility of the Probation Service. When I started we were all social work trained and the Service took seriously it's legacy social welfare work with waifs and strays. But then so did society in general. Even up to the late 1980's, the State in the form of the DHSS still ran a nationwide network of hostels dedicated to helping the likes of Danny. But there were other providers too, the Church Army, Salvation Army and Local Authorities to name but some. They all provided help and support so that probation had a fighting chance when undertaking the often difficult and patient work of trying to turn the likes of Danny's life around.

I'm often asked if it worked? My answer cannot in all honesty be a trite 'yes'. Of course for some it worked, but remember probation only really see the 'failures.' For others it could be said to have failed, but I don't agree for the following reasons. Firstly, all probation officers quite quickly learned in those days that 'failure' just meant the guy wasn't ready yet and therefore you just had to try again, possibly something slightly different. Secondly, it was a much more humane way to treat people. I suspect I could now add a third which would never have occurred to me at the time and that would be that it was just 'cheaper.' 

Of course nowadays in the modern Probation Service we are all concerned about 'efficiencies and effectiveness.' The likes of Danny doesn't get a look in at all. He's low risk and therefore simply of no interest to us. Oh, and for good measure we'd say he wasn't suitable for Unpaid Work or any programme we offered and he'd be unlikely to respond to supervision. Every time I watch programmes like 'Coppers' it makes me reflect on why I became a probation officer in the first place and why I often feel so miserable about where we are today. I want to go and interview Danny, pick up the case and get to know him..... 

The rest of this particular episode of 'Coppers' featured officers spending hours getting tangled up with long-running neighbour disputes and possible ways to try and resolve them. Guess which agency of the State used to do that?! And talk to naughty kids, and help resolve child custody battles. Oh happy days......            

Monday 23 January 2012

Popularity and Balance

I can't help noticing that Inspector Gadget has now passed 8 million hits, but has recently been musing that despite this, nothing seems to have changed. It got me thinking. Having been hugely successful and named by The Times as one of 40 blogs That Really Count, it occurs to me that he actually seems to feel that things might change. On the contrary, I'm fairly sure that they won't and that gives me cause to feel rather more optimistic about things as a result. 

When I started blogging I was angry about what was happening to my profession and quite quickly found it therapeutic. I've always wanted to try and explain the intricacies of what largely remains a much-misunderstood field of human endeavour, but I don't think I ever thought things might change just because I started writing about them. Chance would be a fine thing! If you think about it, there have been relatively few people in history who's writings alone have changed the course of events. In a job like probation, especially nowadays when initiative and innovation are impossible, you mostly have to be content with just trying to help change an individuals life for the better, rather than the social policy failure that in large measure lead to the person's life being a mess in the first place. 

Basically I think most work-based blogs are essentially a useful commentary on what goes on from an insiders point of view, and at the very least might prove to be of some interest to future historians. To be taken seriously though I think they have to at least try and aspire to being reasonably balanced. I'm a big supporter of the Police, appreciate the very difficult job they have to perform for all our safety and love reading Gadget. But I'm always worried about stuff I don't see him mentioning, like the recent revelation that two undercover officers secretly fathered children and a PC in Manchester has been dismissed for having sex with five women at Police Stations. Apart from anything else, it brings policing into disrepute, fosters the impression that it's almost a perk of the job and gives a whole new meaning to the term 'Police Service.' And what about the news from 34 Forces who responded to an FOI request that there are at least 1,000 officers and PCSO's currently serving with quite serious convictions to their names?

Gadget regularly has a pop at the coalition government's plans for elected Police Commissioners, but at the same time is dissmissive of current Police Authorities like that covering London and recently abolished. I would tend to agree with him on this point, but exactly how do we exercise some accountability over Police Forces? It seems that Nottinghamshire Police Authority wasn't even aware of their Chief Constable's decision to co-operate in the making of the Channel 4 tv show 'Coppers' and is mightily vexed at some of the broadcast footage as a result. He's not a fan of the Independent Police Complaint's Commission either, so do we go back to the days of simply relying on internal investigations? Popularity is one thing, but happily common sense is quite another. 

Sunday 22 January 2012

New Training Tool

News reaches me that at least one Probation area has decided to use the recent BBC1 drama series 'Public Enemies' as the basis for staff training. I'm grateful to the person who sent me an early draft of the questions and hope that the author will not mind their handiwork being brought to the attention of a wider audience. Why not have a go at the quiz yourself? 


‘Public Enemies’ Training Quiz

You are a PO and have just returned to work following suspension after a Serious Further Offence investigation involving a very high profile murderer released on Life Licence. The first case you are allocated on returning to work is Eddie, a very high profile murderer released on Life Licence. Read the following scenarios and decide which option would be most appropriate.

  1. Eddie breaches his exclusion zone by visiting his victim’s memorial and gets into a fight with the victim’s father. Eddie then asks you to lie for him rather than take any enforcement action as he ‘deserves a second chance’. What would you say?

a)     No, that would be completely unacceptable.
b)     I won’t lie but we may be able to avoid recall if the father doesn’t make a complaint.
c)    Of course I’ll lie! After all, we wouldn’t want anyone to think I was being paranoid just because of that last SFO would we?

  1. Shortly after his release you notice it is Eddie’s birthday - the first one he has celebrated in the community for several years. What would you do?

a)    Risk assess the situation - is it possible he will go out and get drunk, try to contact people against his licence conditions etc?
b)     Wish him a happy birthday when he next reports but make no more of it.
c)     Meet him from work, take him out to a public place where either of you could be recognised and buy him a cupcake with a candle in it. It’s a ‘constructive intervention.’

  1. Eddie turns up at your house in the middle of the night, furiously banging on your door and saying that he is innocent of the offence after all. How would you deal with the situation?

a)     Call the police straight away and have him arrested and recalled.
b)     Calmly ask him to leave and speak firmly about appropriate boundaries during your next supervision session.
c)     Let him in (after all, he says he’s innocent), threaten to recall him using your special Home Office hotline then change your mind (after all, he says he’s innocent) and give him a lift back to the hostel (after all....)

  1. You realise that in light of his denial of the offence, the fact that he has lost his job and is pushing boundaries with his licence, the offender’s risk level should be increased to High. What actions would be part of your contingency plan for this eventuality?

a)     Issue an ACO warning.
b)     Call an emergency MAPPA.
c)      Send him on an unsupervised day out to the seaside with his new girlfriend, who knows nothing of his offences, and turn a blind eye if this makes him late back for his hostel curfew. It’ll do him good.

  1. During a group session at the hostel Eddie launches into a rant about his licence, swears at you, storms out of the group and trashes his room. What action would you take?

a)     Go straight to recall.
b)     Issue a final warning.
c)      Arrange for his sister to smuggle him out in her car and take him back to her house (within his exclusion zone) where he can continue his rant in front of her impressionable young daughters.

  1. Following a meeting in a cafe, Eddie asks you to stay with him for a while as he ‘enjoys your company’. You agree on certain conditions. In terms of boundaries, which of the following would you need to insist was not acceptable?

a)     Making jokes about your past sexual experience.
b)     Tweaking his nose in a playful, flirtatious manner.
c)      Talking about football.

  1. Eddie becomes convinced that his GP was responsible for the murder, forces his way into the surgery in front of a room full of patients and punches him on the nose. He is arrested, but the GP refuses to press charges. Would this now be grounds for recall?

a)     Definitely. The arrest is enough, his behaviour is unacceptable and the risk is going through the roof.
b)     There’s some room for flexibility - maybe just a warning on this occasion.
c)      Absolutely not. Having visited my last SFO case in prison, I’m now 100% convinced that Eddie is innocent because he’s openly breaking the rules instead of manipulating me - what sort of dangerous offender would do a thing like that? In fact, I’m going to meet him from the police station, greet him with a passionate hug and kiss and tell him that I believe in him. As long as I clearly record this in CRAMS and update OASys, I’m sure it will be defensible if the worst comes to the worst.

Friday 20 January 2012

Not a Pretty Sight

On this occasion I would tend to agree with Inspector Gadget that the pictures of Daniel Chrapkowski celebrating his avoidance of prison on the steps of Manchester Crown Court is not an edifying sight.. Having pleaded guilty to a count of causing Grievous Bodily Harm that put his victim in hospital for a month, he received a suspended term of imprisonment coupled with Unpaid Work and a two month curfew. A co-accused pleaded guilty to Affray and received Unpaid Work coupled with a Curfew and Compensation Order. A third person was sent to custody for 27 months having admitted that the assault had been committed whilst on bail for another offence of violence. 

I have said before and I say again that it is invariably unwise to comment on sentencing decsions in the absence of full knowledge. For a start we don't know if there was any antecedant history. For all we know Mr Chrapkowski may well have been of previous good character and, as unattractive as he may look from his Facebook photos plastered all over the tabloid press, as far as I'm aware it's not yet illegal to either be an arse or cover yourself in tattoos.

On one level the sentencing decisions by the judge in relation to each defendant can be regarded as competent, understandable and proportionate and especially given the guilty plea's. My concern relates to the point at which the plea's were entered and as a consequence the resulting type and quality of probation Pre-Sentence Reports that were prepared. For early guilty plea's, there's ordinarily plenty of time for probation to prepare full reports, but if there is a guilty plea on the day, judge's are increasingly loathe to adjourn for any reasonable length of time and now insist on just a quick interview on the day with a Probation Services Officer based at Crown Court.  

My point is this. I have reason to believe that in the interests of speed and economy, probation is no longer in a position to make the necessary full investigation and assessment on defendants prior to sentencing, and especially in serious cases. PSR's were invented in the first place so as to assist the process of fair sentencing by providing an independent but expert view somewhere in between the necessarily partisan picture painted by the defence and prosecution. In my view we are slowly but surely losing this vital role and it will have serious consequences for sentencing.


Friday 13 January 2012


I'm sorry if it seems like this blog is turning into the electronic version of the tv or radio times, but there just seems to be so much being broadcast about criminal justice at the moment. Maybe it's always been like this and I just hadn't noticed, but now I have blank blog pages to fill.

'Coppers' is a Channel 4 documentary series following various branches within the police as they go about their daily work. I never caught any of series one broadcast in 2010 and the new series started on Monday this week, featuring CID based in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire. The subject matter is of interest to probation officers because of course those being dealt with will almost certainly come our way at some point. Watching this first programme just served to remind me once again for the need of something similar, following our work with offenders, but maybe the tv people just don't think it's exciting enough.

First off, I have to say it's reassuring to see that the officers based in Mansfield appear so 'normal' to me. So professional, so human and well, like us in many respects. I knew that before of course, but we have different jobs to do and of necessity we view the clientele somewhat differently. Once again I recognised all the characters and try as I might I found it hard not to be either mentally writing their PSR's, pondering a supervision plan or just seeking an explanation. At the same time, ringing in my ears, was a particularly irritating political soundbite I've heard recently along the lines of 'we should try and understand less and condemn more.' Errr no, and tv programmes like this highlight for me the stupidity of such sentiments.

The young, cocky, suspected burglar who feels that the police are 'stupid' and villains much smarter will be all too familiar to most PO's. Such distorted thinking is sadly so very typical. Having failed miserably at school, probably the product of unstable parenting and negative role models, he will almost certainly be involved in either heavy drinking or drug usage. The look of those eyes and the profuse sweating during interview looked very familiar to me. The future for him, and sadly the community that he resides within and is no doubt pestered by him, is quite bleak. Currently unemployable, one can only hope that either the passage of time and maturing process, coupled with a rather more sensible girlfriend, may in the end effect some positive change. 

Of course probation will do it's best. He'll no doubt find himself on a Thinking Skills Programme at some point. A referral to a drug project and a spell of Unpaid Work, but when he either fails or breaches it will be ever-lengthening spells in custody, which he made plain were no great hardship at all. What he and his ilk need is something radical. Do you remember that tv series a few years back called 'Bad Lads Army?' A brilliant example of how the combination of external interest, structure and discipline can change someon'e life for the better. A period away from your normal environment, a broadening of horizons and the chance to have some responsibility. All quite well-known techniques behind organisations like Scouts, Youth Clubs, Sail Training Association, Intermediate Treatment and Prince's Trust, but as a society generally we seem to have forgotten the lessons and no longer have the range of opportunities we once did. 

At the other end of the spectrum, and the first episode of this new series of 'Coppers', was the learning-disabled sex offender. We don't know all the details, but it seems he was being accommodated in a hostel of some kind and was the subject of certain restrictions in terms of movement. Basically an ill-judged decision to allow him out into the community unescorted now means that he has been sentenced to indefinite detention in prison (no doubt IPP) with a judges recommendation that he never be released.

I find this absolutely shocking, but highlights the plight of this very difficult group of offenders. Not bad, or mad in terms of being appropriate for detention in Special Hospital, this sad man will now be inappropriately the responsibility of HM Prison Service with little chance of release. Due to his learning disability he will be deemed unsuitable for sex offender groupwork programmes within prison and his future is even more bleak than the young suspect burglar. I always find these cases very upsetting and his probation officer will find that their scope to assist is sadly severely restricted. Without doubt, the learning-disabled remain very much misunderstood by the Criminal Justice system and get a very raw deal as a result.     


Wednesday 11 January 2012

Dying in Prison

It may not be widely known, but one of the fastest growing groups within our prison system is the elderly male. There are currently 8,000 such prisoners classified as 'old' and the Prison Service takes 50 as the relevant age due to the often harsh lifestyles already having wreaked havoc with mind and body. There are two main reasons for this ageing prison phenomenon. Firstly, the increase in length of sentences for serious offences over the last decade or so, and secondly the ability of improved forensic techniques, especially that of DNA, in being able to apprehend suspects many years after the commission of offences. By far the largest category of prisoner in this aged male population is the sex offender. 

Often abandoned by friends and family it's extremely difficult for probation officers to find suitable accommodation for these prisoners upon release. In my experience, both hostels and sheltered accommodation providers are extremely loathe to justify the risks involved and I do wonder if there might not be some frail and elderly prisoners on determinate sentences possibly languishing in prisons beyond the legal authority to detain them? Surely not I hear you say...... ? But certainly for those on indeterminate sentences, it goes without saying that lack of suitable, supervised accommodation often precludes the possibility of the Parole Board even seriously considering release. I guess it could be described as 'scandalous', but where is the willingness or funding for such specialised units that would be required as an alternative to prison?

For the first time ever, the Prison Service has granted media access to the special elderly unit at HMP Norwich, along with other prisons, and Rex Bloomstein's programme for BBC Radio 4 makes fascinating listening as a result. There are real issues of risk involved, even with men in their 70's and 80's, in terms of possible further offending and it was enlightening to hear the Governor of HMP Whatton talking of current experiments with libido-reducing drugs for this group. I'm not at all sure I'm entirely at ease with such developments as it inevitably brings back some very unhappy thoughts of drug therapies and treatments in the 50's and 60's. I seem to recall that Alan Turing was sentenced to such a chemical treatment as part of a Probation Order after the war. I suppose by nature I'm much more inclined towards cognitive therapies where sex offending is concerned.

Anyway, a thought-provoking programme for those interested in yet another aspect of our mostly secretive prison system and due for repeat on Sunday 15th January at 5.00pm on BBC Radio 4. Alternatively, in the UK it can be found on i-player here.  

Sunday 8 January 2012

Another Milestone

The blog counter tells me that I've passed 100,000 hits since starting in August 2010 which feels great, even though sadly in recent times the hit-rate has been inflated by pesky attention from spammers. Nevertheless, it feels good and I'll certainly be raising a glass later today in celebration. Thankyou for reading and some of you for taking the time to give valuable feedback. It really is much appreciated. 

I sense that this year is going to be another significant milestone for probation. 2012 sees NAPO marking its centenary, but sadly any celebrations will be tempered by significant chunks of the Service moving out of the public sector. There's been precious little public awareness or comment on the proposed privatisations, effectively giving the politicians a free hand. But at long last the Probation Chiefs Association seem to have woken up to the widespread ignorance the public has about our work and have suddenly become more media savvy. They are giving some prominence to the efforts of Russell Webster, an independent consultant and I'm sure it's not just coincidence that the initiative has been launched at the same time as the BBC screens the first major probation drama since 'Hard Cases' in the late 80's. 

Readers will be aware that I've already expressed my disappointment with 'Public Enemies' and been taken to task for naivety to a certain extent as a result. I understand that drama often does not represent reality, but our problem is that public ignorance remains widespread and probation features but rarely in tv drama, and then mostly in terrible 'bit parts.' Did anyone catch a glimpse recently of a black probation officer broadcasting his involvement with a client to the regulars in the Queen Vic in Albert Square?

Anyway, I thought it would be interesting to see what others are saying, like the Probation Chiefs Association:-

"While a drama would not be expected to reflect accurately the day to day work of probation, it does bring out many of the themes that face probation staff daily. Striking the balance between restrictive requirements and the more “constructive interventions“ sometimes referred to in the film is correctly and sensitively portrayed.  In terms of the fictional Probation officer/offender relationship, viewers will no doubt find the suggestion of the ‘up close and personal’ chemistry compelling. It is far removed from reality. What is true and backed by solid research evidence is that the professional Probation Officer/offender relationship is a key factor in successfully reducing reoffending."

I seem to recall that when 'Z Cars', 'Softly, Softly', 'The Sweeney', and 'The Bill' were first aired they got a panning from official police sources. Well, in true probation style, I think this carefully-crafted statement counts as a panning, lol!  

Saturday 7 January 2012

A Missed Opportunity

For me the test of a good tv drama is if it's believable or not. Sadly Paula, the probation officer in Public Enemies, the recent three-parter penned by Tony Marchant for BBC 1 was almost completely unrecognisable. Eddie on the other hand was a very familiar face and I've come across him many times. So, why is it so difficult to write a realistic part for a probation officer? Remember the author had the benefit of assistance from Harry Fletcher of NAPO no less. The  answer lies partly in it's inherent conflicts and multitudinous dimensions, not easily portrayed in a three-part tv drama by someone who has little or no knowledge of our work. 

I have to say that I found watching this drama very uncomfortable indeed. For some reason I kept thinking it was a training film that could be stopped every now and then so that people could chip in comments on the ubiquitous flip chart 'oh that's not how to talk to him', 'that wouldn't happen', 'that's definitely not right', 'oh bloody hell!' you know, that sort of thing. As a training film demonstrating how not to supervise a lifer case, it might just have an enduring role, but for me it's absolutely vital that the public understand it's not how we work at all.

In order to be clear, I'm not just saying it was Paula's general demeanour, her poor judgement and method of operation, it includes important factual errors such as contact with the victims family. In my experience the clients supervising probation officer would never have direct contact with victims or their families. For sound professional reasons, this delicate work is undertaken by colleagues in a dedicated unit and there exists a 'Chinese wall' between the two parts of the probation service. 

Even in accepting the authors intention of showing the difficult journey an officer returning to work from suspension has to tread, Paula's behaviour is just breathtakingly unrealistic, naively stupid and crankily-scripted. I have never come across that level of unprofessionalism, collusion, obfuscation and lying, and I've seen my fair share of bad practice over the years, believe me. However, what's really worrying is some of the comments from probation staff in London on their website. Some apparently think 'it was a realistic representation of probation work.'  OMG - I feel one of my heads coming on again and need to lie down! 

PS - the NAPO forum site is strangely silent on the topic and some of us would like to hear a bit more from Harry Fletcher........      

Thursday 5 January 2012

Public Enemies

Well, after a false start caused by the Stephen Lawrence verdicts it's finally arrived - a serious attempt at a probation drama. As Harry Fletcher from NAPO says, it's been a long-time coming since the last attempt 'Hard Cases' in the late 80's. I certainly cringed when I first got wind of the intended story line that involved a sexual relationship between young female officer and released 'lifer', but Harry reckons to have significantly altered the plot line to more accurately reflect true life. We'll have to wait to the end to find out, but surely for there to be any point in drama, it must reflect reality mustn't it?

Writing about probation by non-practitioners must be peculiarly difficult as it is so uncommon, and yet insiders have always known that the potential plot lines are vast and all-encompassing. We know author Tony Marchant had some help from NAPO and we're all smart enough to understand that in telling a story for tv you have to indulge in some 'compression' and even suspension of belief, but I really think the public needs to know that hell freezing over is rather more likely than a lifer being released to the area where the offence was committed. Yes I know it's an essential element of this plot-line and it will therefore serve the purpose of underlining just how sensible a policy it is when viewers see the mayhem caused by not following it. I just didn't want people thinking we really were generally that stupid.

As always, insiders will probably laugh and cringe in equal measure - did you see the size of that 'lifer' file? - and how about that interview for a first meeting? But this is tv drama and sadly I am familiar with some officers who might be better placed career-wise in an interrogation unit in some other government agency. It's not impossible to imagine a change of officer at the very point of release as any of us could succumb to a nasty accident, but I think most of us would hope that any officer finding themselves in such a situation really would put a bit more effort into building a rapport with their new client!

It would be nit-picking to point out things like a lifer would only be released from an open prison and would have already stayed at the hostel on ROTL, Release on Temporary Licence. I think the key thing for me has to be the degree to which a member of the public would be able to understand what is going on and the reasons for it. Realistically one episode, let alone three, cannot hope to capture the sheer breadth of issues and factors probation officers have to deal with on a daily basis. The stresses and strains, together with the subtleties and nuances of continually having to balance the needs for risk management and public protection with rehabilitation and positive development in their client. I think that's going to mean the BBC commissioning at least another series. 

Oh, and finally the cliff-hanger that Eddie is in fact innocent and took the rap for someone else is going to get a lot of prison officers laughing their socks off - I can hear them now "we've got whole wings who say that in here!"


Wednesday 4 January 2012

Justice at Last

How supremely ironic that the first episode of the long-anticipated BBC1 probation drama 'Public Enemies' was bounced off the tv schedules by a real-life murder case. It was always likely that the jury returning guilty verdicts in the Stephen Lawrence case would be big news, and so it proved with the last-minute screening of the moving BBC 1 'Panorama' special focussed on Stephens mother Doreen. The Criminal Justice System, Probation included, is often accused of not taking into account the effect of crime upon victims and this programme gives us all some valuable insight.

As the judge considers his sentencing remarks overnight, discussion has already begun regarding the likely outcome. Although both convicted men are now in their 30's, they will have to be dealt with as if they were minors, and initially 'Detained at Her Majesty's Pleasure'. This strikes me as pretty much academic as such a sentence automatically becomes a Life Sentence on attaining the age of majority. The key bit is the length of the tariff, or period of imprisonment that must be served before consideration for release by the Parole Board. The situation has changed significantly over the 18 years since the murder took place, with the Criminal Justice Act 2003 introducing much higher tariffs in relation to certain types of aggravated offences. 

Although there is bound to be concern in some quarters that these two men will still have cheated justice to some extent when their tariffs are announced, it must be remembered that release will only eventually come about when the Parole Board are convinced that it is safe to do so. At this very moment, somewhere in London, two probation officers will already be engaged in the process of making preparations for that process in the form of Post Life Sentence Reports. Over the coming years they will have the task of getting to know as much as possible about these two men in order to make well-informed judgements that will inform the process, and it's not easy.

Understandably perhaps, there is a view in certain quarters that probation officers are quite naive and gullible. All that is required is to 'tell them what they want to hear' and release becomes relatively straightforward. Well, I must disabuse them. It's not for nothing that this blog refers to the 'mysteries and magic' that is 'probation.' Despite the claims for OASys, making assessments is not and never can be a science in my view, but rather will remain an imprecise art. In view of this, experience tells me that one of the most significant factors is the length of time a case can remain with the same officer. In my career, in sentence planning meetings, I have often been the only 'expert' in the room due purely to having supervised the case from the beginning and remembered key facts, noticed differing versions in the prisoners story and subtle changes in their attitude, demeanor and body language.

Of course what I'm describing is a situation where the prisoner wishes to make progress on an indeterminate sentence. In a sense it's much easier to make a judgement about risk where the prisoner makes it plain that they have no intention of changing - they simply don't get released. So the key question is, as put to me regularly by a long-term denying life sentence prisoner, 'if you don't believe me, how will you know when I'm telling the truth?' In short a very good question, to which I routinely gave the somewhat lame reply 'I just will!' 

It's sad I know, but over the Christmas and New Year break I found myself watching an old edition of a game show called 'Goldenballs' on an obscure cable tv channel. For those unfamiliar with the format, contestants compete for potentially very large sums of money by playing a game of chance, but spiced up by the ability to either rob their opponent or share the winnings with them. They basically have to convince their opposite number that they are telling the truth in wishing to share the loot and not lying in order to steal the lot. I have to say an unnerving programme for a probation officer, with some very uncomfortable professional similarities.