Risk and rehabilitation in probation supervision

This month Mike Guilfoyle offers a glimpse of how probation officers, in practice, supervise and help to rehabilitate those convicted of sex offences

By: 
Mike Guilfoyle
Date: 
Monday, 06 May, 2019

I was recently reading an important contribution to the criminological literature on the importance of rehabilitative prison regimes from the perspectives of those convicted of sexual offences. It reminded me of supervising Adison (not his real name) during his period of post-sentence statutory supervision and beyond. I had some residual misgivings about my initial meeting with him, on the basis of his troubling index offences, which had elicited considerable negative local press coverage. As a consequence of this he had been 'forced' to relocate on release from his prison sentence to another area of London. He was required by the terms of restrictions imposed under his registration (having served a sentence in excess of twelve months) to place his name on the sex offenders register. He was also required, under the terms of an indefinite Sexual Offences Protection Order (SOPO), to inform local police about his whereabouts and prevented from accessing certain types of electronic media.

How to balance risk and foster positive engagement

I realised that I had to balance the importance of fostering positive professional engagement, assessing risk and reducing harm as well as helping to forge a supportive relationship that did not further increase his evident social isolation. Adison said this oppressive 'unchanging' identity was hampering his efforts to find employment. 'Who wants to employ someone like me?' he would ask.  At the outset, it was apparent that the challenges of supervision meant working, in part, towards ensuring that flexible and sensitive reporting arrangements needed to compliment what was already set in motion through what had become known as MAPPA (Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements). This often appeared to be a perfunctory oversight. I had encouraged Adison to attend such meetings to voice his own point of view but it led to his soon becoming disillusioned by the absence of any perceived attempt to enable him to resume his employment status. This subsequently became the greatest practical challenge in our meetings to effect future compliance. 

'I feel less like the person they want me to be'

I opted to shift our contact settings to less formal settings, and this assisted in setting in motion a more constructive and purposeful professional experience, for which Adison observed, 'I feel less like the person they want me to be'. I was ever mindful of the need to retain proper boundaries and non-collusive supervision. To this end, Adison asked if I might accompany him to a nominated police station so that he could collect some of his belongings that had been confiscated in the initial police investigation, and were not on any expressly prohibited list. I arrived at the police station and awaited his arrival. I explained to desk staff the nature of our professional relationship and this appeared to enable them to take his request more seriously. 'They will just give me the run-around again' he had opined beforehand.

After a delay, the officer on duty provided an itemised collection of his property. I then drove Adison to his new address - designated support accommodation - in another part of London. We agreed that we could discuss his next steps towards some interim work, which he was required to undertake as part of his benefit to work scheme. I then received a number of worrying phone calls from Adison, not only was his benefit entitlement now under threat but his accommodation was being withdrawn and he was feeling like 'absolute s***'.

Bereft of such obvious supports, I feared could have the potential to undermine his stability and laudable commitment to change. I contacted a charity that offered to temporarily house him and encouraged him to attend appointments with his advisor to pre-empt loss of his only available income. 

Building a therapeutic relationship

To this end, we met more frequently, in informal settings, and I was conscious that offering such a 'safe space' did enable him to work through some of the difficult options he was then facing and in doing so build on what he acknowledged was an important ' therapeutic ' relationship . The real sense of the hostile and negative environment that he was experiencing in his efforts to ’re -enter' the community was palpable. I was able in the course of our professional relationship, to refashion some of my own ambivalent feelings and perceptions, particularly how easy it was to take in such negative societal attitudes, and lose sight of the knock-on impact on fair access to employability and housing, in a way that I had least expected in my work with Adison. This was particularly apparent when 'high profile' cases involving sex crimes dominated the headlines. 

I retained voluntary contact with Adison for some time after statutory supervision had expired and as such this meant periodic meetings in which we could take stock of how things were going. We looked creatively at strengthening his resolve to lead a harm free lifestyle and aid in bolstering his existing network of support. I appreciated that many of the pre-existing penal restrictions still remained in place and as such these continued to dominate his outlook. But at the same time he had, to the best of my knowledge, remained offence-free and it was only when he moved to another part of the country that this voluntary aftercare contact ended.

'Without that...'

I did, however, receive a greeting card from Adison about a year later in which he offered the following thoughts, 'Mike, I cannot believe that so much time has gone by. I have settled into my new address, I cannot thank you enough for your ongoing support, without that ... '