IT’S the little victories that keep you motivated in this job. If you dwelt on the persistent reoffending, you’d go mad.
There’s a lot of ‘tough love’ required. I don’t think of the offenders I work with as my children, but I think of them as being under my care.
I started my career as a probation officer in Hillingdon 10 years ago and I’ve known a lot of the most prolific offenders since.
Trying to break the cycle of offending, going to prison and reoffending is very difficult because, in a lot of cases, crime is all they’ve known.
Many have family problems and went off the rails very young, becoming involved with the Youth Offending Team before probation.
A lot of them have been in care and, as a result, they’ve never had anything steady in their lives.
The ‘tough love’ comes in when I have to either recall them to prison or breach them, either for their own good – or to protect possible future victims from further crimes.
While I try to support them, I cannot condone their offending and I try to sort out their issues to give them a better chance.
To house ex-offenders after release from prison is a huge challenge as very few private landlords will accept someone on benefits.
We work with local charities or the council to see what can be done, but nothing’s easy.
Persuading someone who has difficulties with reading and writing to go to the Jobcentre and sign on - using a computer - is difficult, too.
Admitting you have literacy difficulties is not something anyone wants to do, and often the only computer they’ve ever seen is one they’ve nicked.
Mondays are my busiest day as offenders have had a whole weekend to get into trouble.
So, first thing I’ll talk to my police contact and find out who has been arrested or wanted for questioning.
During the afternoon, I meet with several agencies in the borough to share information about whether people are attending drug agencies, to address any drug misuse, who is going to be released from prison in the near future, any housing issues and other problems.
During supervision meetings, prolific offenders will be drug-tested and I’m always pleased when the result’s negative. I talk it through with them if they’re positive.
People with drug problems mostly go out stealing simply to raise money, so we work closely with the drug and alcohol rehab unit over the road, to try to get someone drug-free. Then, the main reason to commit further crimes disappears.
We also use role models a lot, people like former addicts who’ve broken free and who motivate and inspire people to realise that they can break free, too.
Offenders with mental health or learning problems can be hard, though. It’s difficult to reach someone when they have a 30-second attention span. They can’t process the consequences of their actions.
We try to get prolific offenders out of the system by the time they’re 30 because, by then, they’ve actually grown up and realised crime’s not smart, nor mature.
I said to one the other day: “Do you want to spend the rest of your life sitting there, having me badger you every week?”
Strangely enough, it does sometimes do the trick – and, seeing the difference I can make, keeps me going.
Some of them make such a big change to their lives that I can be really proud of them.
One has stayed practically drug-free since his release, has started his own company and hasn’t reoffended.
Another stopped drinking, got himself an apprenticeship and has settled down with his girlfriend and young baby.
At the end of the day, it IS possible for even the most prolific offenders to stay out of trouble, if they are motivated to do so.
While I can support them in their efforts to make these changes, I will have job satisfaction.
“You don’t treat me like an idiot,” one of them said to me. “My family cares for me and prison understands me – but only you do both.”
That just made my day.