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The Probation Service gets quite a bit of stick.  Whether you think this is fair or not,  David Scott’s frank discussion of the difficulties that the ‘beleaguered’ service faces in navigating not only the landscape of public engagement and attitudes, but also the political meddling in budgetary affairs and planning, is disturbing.

The Probation Service gets quite a bit of stick.  Whether you think this is fair or not,  David Scott’s frank discussion of the difficulties that the ‘beleaguered’ service faces in navigating not only the landscape of public engagement and attitudes, but also the political meddling in budgetary affairs and planning, is disturbing.

Today’s probation service is a radically different institution to the model fashioned by early pioneers to save souls.  Its key imperative now seems to be law enforcement with a bit of rehabilitation and treatment thrown in.  Probation officers have caseloads that make my knees buckle just at the thought of the sheer numbers.  And it is the numbers that seem to count; how many ex-prisoners on the books, how many are in treatment, how many re-offend, etc. Unlike in prisons, there is rarely any discussion of capacity – as Mr Scott clearly points out – and so the caseload numbers continue to rise while at the same time numbers of officers is reducing.

Most probation officers see – face to face – the individuals they are essentially responsible for, for an average of half an hour every one to two weeks. 

Quoting a well known fictional column writer... “I can’t help but wonder” about how skewed so much of this seems.  The probation service only really has a duty to supervise those people who have served a prison sentence of more than 12 months.  Only a small percentage (0.6% was quoted in 2007) of those who are supervised are convicted of another offence. Officers have a difficult job dealing with budget constraints, reducing staff numbers and increasing caseloads. Politics and public attitudes hinder their work and stifle innovation.

To me it seems that the answers are somewhat straight forward and pretty similar to what I have said before in terms of what goes on in prisons.  There should be less people in prison.  ALL ex-prisoners should be supervised according to their level of need and risk. Communities should have a greater level of involvement in designing and delivering rehabilitation and community action plans (and I don’t mean things like PayBack with fluorescent jackets) and these should begin at the start of a prison sentence.  Families, friends and wider social networks need to be developed and engaged at every level. And Politics should take a back seat.

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