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Richard Drax column: Forgotten ‘vital’ army
9:58am Friday 18th October 2013 in News
LAST week, in a faded office by the law courts in Weymouth, I met some shining examples of a ‘forgotten army’ – the probation service.
The town’s team of 10 officers, supported by a small admin group, handle a caseload of 350 offenders at any one time. As you’d expect, the job is highly pressurised. But, as I talked to the staff, there was no sense of that.
They all appeared calm, very down to earth and professional.
I was briefed by chief officer John Wiseman, who works out of Poole, and the local manager, Carol Miller.
They explained what a complex, yet sensitive, role their team must play.
For example, every offender needs assessment, with options considered, prior to court, after sentencing and following release on licence.
These reports contribute to swift and timely justice, with 80 per cent of them written either on the day, or within three weeks, of an offender’s first court appearance.
They’re also vital for magistrates and judges, who use them to assess what sentence is best suited to reduce re-offending and manage any risk an offender may pose.
Then there are the former prisoners who’ve been released from jail on licence.
Currently, all those serving a fixed sentence can serve half of their time out in the community.
Newly released prisoners – either under 21 or who have served a sentence of 12 months or more – need some supervision.
However, amongst them, are a few, genuinely dangerous individuals, needing almost constant monitoring.
Some spend up to three months in ‘approved premises’ complete with curfews and drug and alcohol testing.
Obviously, the repercussions are grave if a prisoner commits another serious crime on probation.
For the probation officer, it’s a delicate balancing act, and the fact we hear so little about them is in itself the highest commendation.
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