Our over-riding aim is to reduce reoffending and protect the public.
Forty-eight-year-old Joe* has been sober for almost a year. He’s also been out of trouble with the law for the same amount of time – and it’s no coincidence.
Convicted of criminal damage , Joe, was sentenced to a 12 month Suspended Sentence Order with supervision. The order, an alternative to a prison sentence, was supervised by probation staff.
By law, Joe was required to meet with his probation officer on a regular basis for help in dealing with his offending, employment and other issues on a one-to-one basis. It also meant helping him face his problems with the ‘demon drink’. Slowly but surely, probation staff helped Joe put the pieces of his life back together again.
*Name changed to protect identity.
“My offending history has been one of doing well when not consuming alcohol, then consistently being arrested for offending when drunk. I have been in prison, hospitals, mental health institutions, alcohol rehab; lived in hostels and been homeless.
“Part of the problem was that I didn’t believe it was the alcohol,” he confesses. “I never used to talk about it; I used to laugh it off…But how can something in your life, that’s so destructive, be kept secret?”
Joe explains the help of his probation officer: “She was the one who, not only did she help me deal with my offending, she helped me realise that alcohol was the cause.
“She gave me practical help as well as reining me in. She gave me a reality check – about how my offending can, and was, changing by not drinking.
“I received a lot of support from her in the first few weeks of my order. I am grateful for her help, advice and experience. Her practical help did a great deal for me mentally and physically.”
When Joe moved his case was transferred to a new probation officer.
Joe says: “When I first met Trevor*, he explained that as I was so far into my order I should probably only be seeing him once a month. But, to my surprise, he suggested weekly meetings so he could get a better understanding of my case and situation – even though I know it meant extra work for him.
“I have had a great deal of support and direction from Trevor, both in discussing my offending and in moving forward for the future.”
Joe says probation staff helped him realise the ‘tornado effect’ alcohol had on his life and how it was the contributing factor to much of his criminal behaviour.
“The cycle of getting drunk; committing an offence; getting remanded to prison; going to court and being released with no job or home to go to led to me getting drunk and arrested again. It just rolled on.” He says it is important to look for positives in people as well as recognise their weaknesses.
“You need to build up people’s confidence and self-worth; build a good relationship but maintain professional boundaries. Help people with things like paperwork, applying for grants – or even just pointing them in the right direction for help. Finally, you have to recognise that it has to be the individual’s choice to change; we can only put the options in front of them.
“It’s important for people to realise that community punishment is not a soft option. Often the people on these orders find them harder to comply with than a short prison sentence.
“People can really benefit from probation rather than prison, which just concentrates on punishment. We work to help offenders change the way they think and adapt their lifestyles so they can stop offending in future.”
Joe is now sober and has a place he can finally call home. “Trevor took the time to write a report so I could get a grant to buy some basic furniture. He also put me in touch with Employment and Training colleagues and I hope to go on a computer course.
“If it wasn’t for probation I wouldn’t be sat where I am now; in my own accommodation looking at paintings I’ve done and with my own kitchen and everything. I wouldn’t be here.”
But he stresses that people who become stuck in that rut, of drinking and offending, should remember: most people get up and go to work. This maybe their reality, but it’s not everybody’s way of life.
“I am grateful the judge put me on probation. That was the first step to me getting some direction and stability in my life.
“Being responsible does a great deal for self worth. It’s a silent healer. It’s no big deal to anyone else but it’s about building yourself up after the destruction of addiction. “I’m paying my bills, like rent and electric. I’m being responsible.
“My advice to anyone else who is in the same boat? You deserve better. If the world is beating you up, why join in?
“Probation helped me to get my life together.”
*Name changed to protect identity.