I don’t often tell people I’m a probation officer.
It’s not something you shout about because many people misunderstand what being on probation’s all about, or see it as a soft option.
When I first started working as a trainee four years ago I wasn’t as confident in the role as I am now.
I had to complete a 15-month graduate diploma in community justice to qualify, but while this gave me the theoretical background, hands-on case management experience has been the biggest learning curve.
Probation is a balance between support and control.
Primarily my role is protection – whether that be for victims, the public, or children. In supervision sessions with offenders I support and encourage offenders to make positive changes to build a better life.
My role is to help them understand what triggers their offending, so they can then start coming up with their own answers as to why they’ve done what they’ve done.
When someone starts on probation, I set boundaries and am transparent from the outset.
I tell them if I learn of anything that places themselves or others at risk, I have to inform other agencies such as social services or police – and there may be consequences to that.
Jointly we work out a sentence plan – a set of goals for them to achieve while on probation – to enable that to happen.
Achieving a positive outcome is the aim, ideally that would be turning away from crime altogether but that’s not always achievable.
A positive outcome may be a service users drug use reducing from £50 to £10 per day or reducing the frequency of offending.
As long as the offender shows they are motivated to make changes, work can be done.
You can never totally eliminate the risk that someone will re-offend, but it’s possible to minimise that risk.
I am part of the integrated offender management team which deals with the most prolific offenders in Hounslow.
Most of the offenders I work with are committing crime for money and substance misuse is usually a factor.
Working as part of a multi-agency team including police and the local drug agency, the idea is to provide enhanced support to give an offender the best chance of success.
When individuals do not comply with their licence, and the risk they pose can’t be managed in the community, they are returned to prison.
This can effect the relationship you have built with them, but public safety has to come first.
The success stories tend to be turning away from drugs and getting a job.
It’s often seen as easier to steal something to make money than complete a day’s labouring work, however the satisfaction of getting up in the morning with purpose and earning a wage is priceless to see when it does happen.
It is easy to become blasé when reading case files, but I also have to remember that the person sitting in front of me has committed a crime – and they need to take responsibility for that.
While looking at the offence is important, it is just as important to focus on the future.