Tuesday, 14 September 2021

I Believe In You

Thanks to the wonderful Talking Pictures TV channel, last night I finally got to see this landmark film of 1952 which enjoys a bit of a cult status amongst POs of a certain vintage. I wasn't really sure what to expect, but from the outset I got a shiver and was instantly transported back to my early days. 

Even from the 80's, it was all recognisable. My own office with nameplate on the door; reverence and disdain from clients in equal measure; a constant stream of life's flotsam and jetsam; matrimonial one minute, criminal cases the next; the urgent call for a Probation Officer at court over the road and being routinely 'volunteered' due to a life-long habit of wearing a tie. 

It might be tempting for some to mock the quaintness of language, dress, social more's, practice and procedure of the time, but for me all the fundamentals of probation practice are present right from the beginning, as indeed the reasons why the role was so attractive to people with a degree of life experience under their belt. 

The court room scenes in particular sent a shiver down my spine, not least because I was there, in court on my feet, saying those very words! I can still hear the Bench chair now "Your Probation Officer seems to feel you warrant a further chance. I will revoke the current order and make a fresh order for 12 months. You are free to go." It was a great feeling because you felt justice had been done; you had earnt your salary; they had another chance; it was the right decision for them and society.

But lets not get too misty-eyed. Very early on we hear the classic line from the star PO "A Probation Officers life is full of disappointments". A truism of course, because the 'failures' keep coming back and the 'successes' we generally never see again. But we never give up and that's the essential message of this wonderful film. 

It may be portraying life 70 years ago, but the basics are exactly the same. Probation as we would recognise it very rarely features on the big or small screen, so try and watch it simply for its rarity value. It may just serve to confirm you made the right career choice and help you deal with all the current managerial and process-driven crap.   



  1. Its rumoured that HMPPS are instructing counsel to have the film banned from future screenings as it undermines Tory manifesto pledges:

    "We will introduce tougher sentencing... We will toughen community sentences... We will add 10,000 more prison places..."

    1. Be serious it was an encouraging film portraying everything that was already gone in the 70s. The 80s saw some real change to the 90s savagery of self determined careerists destroy all that was recognisable. The millenials know no different than punish.

  2. Thought it was a great film. It captured the whole ethos of what once was, and I believe still should be what probation services are about.
    The courtroom scenes were particularly good, and anyone of a certain age is likely to recall them, whether on the floor informing the court, or in the Dock listening to proceedings and hoping!
    Social inquiry reports, and knowing the families of those on probation were invaluable.
    But another thing I hope those that watched noticed was the sentencing periods. Right up until the 1980s 4years made you a long term prisoner. Sentencing periods have increased greatly since then and solved nothing, infact it's probably been counter productive.
    Great film though.!


  3. As one of the millennials in probation, this is a genuine question from me: did advise, assist and befriend work with sex offenders? I ask that because it strikes me that probation was all about working with people who were at risk of going to prison but probation was an alternative, eg one last chance. But could it really work for a caseload of high risk sex offenders and violent offenders released from prison? What about sex offenders from the 50's through to the 80's, were there many or were there so few successful prosecutions and convictions that they barely featured on a probation officers caseload?

    1. Good question and I'll have a stab at an answer. I've written about this topic several times, and from the early days. This from 2013:-


      This from 2010:-


      In my experience, all people can be treated the same, but how they respond varies of course. The thing is, way back you had freedom to operate how you thought best, the caseloads were varied, but most importantly no computer so no endless data-entering OASys shite.

    2. It might also be worth remembering that it's only in recent years that All offenders are directed twords probation. Previously it was only those sent directly from the courts on probation orders, or those that had achieved parole under the 1,2,3 thirds system.
      Those that didn't achieve parole were released after serving 2thirds of their sentence with no supervision requirement.


    3. Probation orders had to be consented to of course - Hobsons choice some might say, but an important principle because the order was an alternative to a sentence such as a fine or Community Service. Whilst that concept sinks in, it's also worth remembering that all prisoners were entitled to voluntary aftercare following release! The service I joined was called the Probation and Aftercare Service.

    4. @12:34 - a very important aspect that has not been in the minds of many for some time: "the legal requirement of consent to a probation order was abolished in 1997".

      One of the faux arguments made to remove consent was that it 'diminished the authority of the court' - poppycock! It was a political act which helped tie the hands of probation staff, one of the earlier efforts by politicians to acquire ownership & control of probation practice.

      As many who work in probation will know, sexual offending (& domestic violence offending) are often disputed by the perpetrators & strong/total denial of their behaviour is common.

      Historically their consent to anything was rare as it implied guilt, something they couldn't bring themselves to acknowledge; they would rather the role of the imprisoned 'innocent' & persist with tales of "a misunderstanding", "a mixup", "the wrong man", "a miscarriage of justice". That way they could avoid any challenge, do their time & leave at their auto-release date without ongoing supervision.

      Sadly the SOTP intervention option pursued with great passion by those in power proved to be of little to no use.


    5. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2066220314549530

      Consent to probation in England and Wales: How it was abolished, and why it matters
      Peter Raynor
      First Published December 10, 2014

    6. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2066220314549522?icid=int.sj-abstract.similar-articles.1

      Yes, no, possibly, maybe: Community sanctions, consent and cooperation
      Rob Canton
      First Published December 10, 2014

      "This article explores the significance of consent to community sanctions and measures. The value of consent derives from the principle of autonomy and rights to freedom and dignity. While normally these are rights that should be upheld and defended, the question is complicated in the case of penal sanctions. The account goes on to discuss the necessary conditions for meaningful informed consent and to inquire into the extent to which these conditions apply to community sentences. The origin of consent to the probation order and other community penalties in England and Wales is outlined – the reason why it was originally expected and why it was eventually abolished. Yet even if consent is not formally required, there is reason to think that England and Wales is an example of a country where in practice consent is actively sought. The relationship between consent and compliance – and the distinct concept of active cooperation – is discussed. It is concluded that a formal expression of consent in Court has symbolic value, but does not resolve the challenge of trying to secure consent and cooperation that must persist throughout the duration of the community order."

    7. Consent to probation in England and Wales: How it was abolished, and why it matters


      Much of probation theory and probation training in Britain during the 1980s emphasised the importance of ‘contracts’ or negotiated agreements between probation officers, probationers and the sentencing Court – for example, joint decision-making was central to the influential ‘non-treatment paradigm’ and its variants. However, the legal requirement of consent to a probation order was abolished in 1997, partly because it was seen as diminishing the authority of the Court. This article discusses the arguments and attitudes that lay behind abolition, and considers how far the absence of formal consent should be seen as making a difference in practice. Recent studies of supervision skills, therapeutic alliance, compliance with probation, sentencer involvement in supervision, and the role of individual choice in desistance from offending all point to the continuing importance of co-operation and joint ownership of the supervision agenda. Although these can exist in the absence of a formal requirement for consent, they have greater support and legitimacy when such a requirement is present. Finally, the article explores how official thinking and political gestures lead to decisions that are detached from the realities of practice, and discusses some of the current dangers that arise from this.

    8. From Inside time article


      And so to the study which has caused all the trouble, the “Impact Evaluation of the Prison-based Core Sex Offender Treatment Programme”. This study involved 2,562 men who had undergone the prison SOTP, and compared them with 13,219 who had not. To make sure that the two groups were as near identical as possible, they were matched on 87 different characteristics that might be related to risk. This is impressive: studies using matching are not uncommon, but usually only match groups on a few characteristics. Not only that, the researchers checked mathematically to make sure that the matching was very accurate. I have read thousands of papers, and rarely seen such close attention to this crucial part of the process. The men were followed up after release for an average of 8.2 years (some for over 13 years). Only 8% of the untreated men were convicted of further sexual offence during the follow-up period, compared with 10% of the treated men. In other words, the treated men were more likely to commit further sexual offences, not less. The MOJ was understandably horrified by this result, and called in Prof Friedrich Lösel (mentioned above) to provide an independent opinion on the quality of the study. It seems that Prof Lösel advised the results should be accepted, and was promptly told to say nothing in public.

    9. https://www.sloughobserver.co.uk/news/19579635.third-serious-offenders-thames-valley-career-criminals/

    10. Career criminals made up a third of serious offenders convicted in Thames Valley last year, figures reveal – suggesting many are caught up in a cycle of reoffending.

      The statistics also show fewer than half of those convicted with at least 15 previous convictions or cautions to their name were sent to prison.

      The Labour party said the "shocking" national figures showed the Government was "soft on crime and its causes", putting the public at risk.

      In Thames Valley last year, in 1,516 of the 4,450 cases (34%) where an adult admitted or was found guilty of an indictable offence – such as theft, violence or rape – the offender had at least 15 previous convictions or cautions, Ministry of Justice data shows.

      That included 44 where the offender had 75 or more previous convictions or cautions.

      The figures also showed that of the cases where offenders had at least 15 previous convictions or cautions, 643 (42%) resulted in an immediate prison sentence.

      Some 83 (5%) resulted in no punishment and 270 (18%) with a fine.

      The outcomes for 120 cases were not specified.

      Across England and Wales, the proportion of adult offenders convicted of a serious offence with 15 or more previous convictions or cautions last year was 36% – down from 38% in 2019, but above the 32% in 2010.

      Of those cases last year, 45% resulted in an immediate prison sentence.

      The Labour party said the "shocking" figures were partly a result of the Government's decision to part-privatise the probation service seven years ago – a move reversed in June this year with renationalisation of the service.

      Holly Lynch, Labour's shadow minister for crime reduction and courts, said: "The Government is soft on crime and its causes.

      "By failing to reduce crime through rehabilitation in our prisons and our communities, the Tories are putting the public at risk."

      She added that Labour would "put victims first by enshrining their rights in law" and focus on criminal rehabilitation to stop the cycle of reoffending.

      In its outcome delivery plan for 2021-22, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop reoffending by focusing on interventions such as providing a home, job and access to treatment of substance-misuse.

      It said the reunification of the probation service meant staff had the skills to run rehabilitative programmes, preventing crime and increasing supervision of offenders outside prison.

      But groups which support the rehabilitation of reoffenders say the Government was still not doing enough.

      Charity Unlocked, which helps people dealing with the stigma of a criminal record, said people also needed support with physical and mental health and wellbeing, as well as housing and employment.

      Chief executive Angela Cairns added: "Having to disclose a criminal record is a barrier to access those things – local authorities are permitted to exclude people with unspent convictions from social housing and more than half of employers admit they would discriminate against someone with a criminal record."

      A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Reducing reoffending is one of our top priorities.

      "That’s why we’re investing millions through the Beating Crime Plan to provide robust monitoring, while tackling the drivers of offending such as substance misuse, homelessness and unemployment.”

    11. "Holly Lynch, Labour's shadow minister for crime reduction and courts, said: "The Government is soft on crime and its causes."

      Oh dear - oh very dear.

    12. 1234 good to see millenials take no offence and great to see a debate livened. The sex offenders in the 50s and up to the 70s were not well managed in probation or anywhere. The police liked to nick homosexuals for their kicks and the rest of is were taught to avoid strangers and the religions to this day hid their pedophiles or promoted them . You will appreciate some grrw up in a world of much greater risk and almost zero convictions. Families internalised their molesters while drive by ride collectors was a common form of sexual assault . Technology has the crimes recorded soar and the boy scouts and boys brigade are a safer place for young boys than they used to be with betting. It was a crime time pedophiles they miss the hey days . Technology and internet has seen their crime fields move but there are a lot more than we ever could have realised then.

    13. I think ex borstal sentences had mandatory probation supervision for 3mths post release as after as gtx touched on it.

  4. I have ordered th book it was based on by Sewell Stokes - apparently

    "From 1941 to 1945 he served as a probation officer at Bow Street Magistrates' Court, London, and in 1950 he wrote an autobiographical account of his experiences there, entitled Court Circular published in paperback by Pan Books. In 1952 the book was made into the film I Believe in You"


  5. Dominic Raab now justice secretary

  6. Replies
    1. Maybe he'll go on holiday and refuse to come home next time we have a high profile incident!

  7. Buckland's teary letter to Johnson:

    "I oversaw the reunification of the probation service, an important reform to keep the public safe and future proof it."

    So the Tory Govt's TR experiment DID put the public at risk... maybe there are grounds for legal action against the govt if this is the Justice Minister's view?