On the run from justice

Mike Guilfoyle
Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Having just read Alice Hoffman's poignant account of what being on the 'wrong side of the law' is like in inner-city Philadelphia, On the Run: fugitive life in an American city, reminded me of working with Mo (not his real name) when I was his Probation Officer.  I had picked up supervision of his licence in a rather unsatisfactory way, as his erstwhile Offender Manager (an occupational designation that I never adopted!) left the service at short notice. As such, to enable his licence supervision to be allocated to a named supervisor, in anticipation of his release from a determinate sentence, was considered a best practice option.

I managed to speak to Mo from his prison (a prison visit was deemed unrealistic given that his release date was imminent) and sensed a real frustration that he would need to get to know another probation worker. Furthermore, the home address he gave was considered 'unsuitable' given the nature of his index offence. In the circumstances, a relative of his had offered to assist at short notice, and this offer was assessed as suitable. On his day of release, having journeyed from some distance, the office interview was a strangely desultory experience. I reassured Mo that in time, given the challenges of resettlement and the need to build up a trusting relationship, these factors could offset the expressed negativity that informed his parting comment to me, 'you may see may next week'!

In the interim, I read through the copious case notes and found, buried amongst the file, a reference to an ailing parent, whose steadfast commitment to Mo during successive prison sentences reminded me of the often overlooked but considerable influence  family links have in stabilising and sustaining a belief in moving away from offending. I was surprised to later take a call from Mo's sister who asked if she could accompany him to the next interview, as she strongly believed that without her support he would breach the terms of his licence due to poor reporting. On the appointed day, Mo did not report and I was left to ponder her words, I rang her but she was too 'busy' to speak, and I had to consider whether this unexplained absence would result in possible recall procedures. In the event a warning letter was issued.

After another week, I had a call from Mo, he could not tell me where he was currently staying, but wanted me to know that he would aim to make the next appointment. I then received a further phone call from the police (the protocol was that all released prisoners on licence had to be notified to the local police). A strained conversation ensued and I was told, 'we have a man in custody and he wants you to know that he cannot make his appointment today'. The only information as to the reasons for his detention related to allegations of Mo 'behaving suspiciously’ near commercial premises.

I had little recourse, once these facts were relayed to my then line manager, to initiate recall procedures (even though Mo was later released without charge). Following this incident, he was subsequently picked up and returned to the nearest local prison. I received a short letter in the days after this recall. Mo had written, ‘Dear Mr Guilfoyle, …I wanted to speak about why I done this (sic)...but my dad was so sick that I could not cope and I didn't really know you....', maybe next time it will be different?

With the possibility of an additional maximum two years in prison for being unlawfully at large under the yet be enacted Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, I wonder how many more future fugitives from justice will be on the run!

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