Probation reforms risk breaking relationships

Mike Guilfoyle remembers 'Casey' who he supervised

Mike Guilfoyle
Tuesday, 04 October, 2016

I recently read Colin Grant's poignant recollections of his brother Christopher's experiences of epilepsy and whose untimely death following an epileptic seizure provides the backdrop for a wider-framed historical account of societal attitudes to epilepsy.

This triggered a memory from my time as a probation officer following a home visit to interview Casey (not his real name) for the purposes of a pre-sentence report. Casey had pleaded guilty to an indecent assault on a female work colleague and the sentencing court had indicated that it wanted the probation service to explore suitable treatment options in view of Casey's moderate learning disability and associated emotional/health matters, which included epilepsy, that might also need addressing.

Family support

On my arrival at his home, I was offered a convivial reception as various family members had made a particular point of being present in an attempt to provide any assistance I might need in the preparation of the report. The experience was somewhat emotionally overwhelming as each family member proffered an opinion as to how Casey might have 'inadvertently' engaged in this aberrant behaviour (there had been no previous documented forensic or evident abusive family history). I sensed that he was uncomfortably close to breaking down and his speech and level of anxiety led me to recognise that, time permitting, a follow up appointment at the probation office and a full report to be placed before the court would need to be done.

Casey had been attending out-patient appointments for various health-related issues and had found work due to family connections. However, I noted his troubling inability to cope unaided when faced with the unsupported and pressured demands of the workplace which seem to inform his inappropriate sexual interest in his female colleague. This was centred on his impulsive and ‘uncontrolled’ touching and limited insight into interpersonal role boundaries.

He was accompanied by his mother at the interview and some progress was made on assessing his suitability for probation intervention. Back then, the range of well-evidenced interventions and multi-agency legislative regulation relating to sexual offending were still underdeveloped. So, the only added condition was a mental health requirement to support adults with mild learning difficulties which was attached to the local psychiatric outreach team.

I also recall a very productive discussion with an experienced advocate whose insights into intellectual disability and sexually inappropriate behaviour proved invaluable. Without being able to discover the motivation behind Casey's sexual offending, appropriate treatment responses might become futile.

The pattern of supervision that followed was greatly assisted by the fact that one of my probation colleagues had a particular interest in the overlap between sexual offending and learning disability, and we agreed to co-work the order.

Casey lost his job as a consequence of his offending and there was a shared concern that his behaviour might, if left unmonitored, regress and he would become socially isolated.

A near miss

On one occasion, my colleague agreed to drive Casey to his out-patient appointment. Having picked him up from his home and while driving, and without warning, the passenger door suddenly opened alongside a busy dual carriageway. Casey tried to jump from the vehicle - but my colleague’s presence of mind and timely driving skills resulted in the car coming to a halt and Casey resuming his place without murmur!

We reviewed the incident on my return and agreed that, safety considerations aside, accompanied visits should continue and more effective ways of ensuring his well-being be put in place. Access to further work and occupational openings were explored as an integral part of supervision and additional non-statutory support frameworks and a well-established network of informal guidance remained in place.

The risk of breaking long-term relationships

One of the many concerning findings, very pertinent I would suggest, to the successful outcome of probation supervision, was outlined in the recent Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee report on reforms to probation services. Included in the report is the fact that, ‘The probation reforms broke long-established working relationships, which many staff have found difficult to adjust to'.

As Casey would say, when he caught sight of my co-worker, a comment confidently based, in my opinion, on the security and trust built into his working relationships with two probation officers, 'Mikey is behind you, I wish I had a brother who looked after me!'.

Mike Guilfoyle is a retired probation officer

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