Whilst recently reading Danielle Arlanda Harris's refreshingly original book Desistance from sexual offending, I was sharply reminded of my supervisory experiences with Kojo (not his real name). Our first meeting at the probation office was for the preparation of a pre-sentence report and the meeting was made more memorable not only by his ebullient presentation but by his loudly persistent attitude to his offences.
By this I mean that he was insistent that he should have been charged under a separate legislative provision, namely the common law statute, 'Outraging public decency' even though this attracted unlimited penalties following conviction!
Instead of which he was being prosecuted under the newly enacted Sexual Offences Act 2003 for non-consensual voyeurism. Such was the voluble exchange at our interview that I arranged a further appointment presentence, so that some viable sentencing proposal could be drafted for the magistrate’s court. In the event, the court imposed a community order with stipulated requirements including attending a group work-based perpetrators programme as well as other restrictive provisions like registration on the Sex Offenders Register.
At our first post-sentence meeting it was clear that Kojo’s supervision was likely to be challenging and the workability of any rehabilitative interventions would need to be sensitively negotiated. The facts of the offences were still hotly disputed (there was a tepid attempt at an appeal against conviction which was deemed out of time) and it appeared that the order would, if unaltered, or in some way not complied with, need to be returned to court for resentencing.
But Kojo kept faithfully to his weekly reporting and evinced a willingness to at least engage in examining alternate pathways to ensuring the order was successful and any assessed risks of reoffending reduced. This set in motion a series of time consuming and at times wearisome meetings, but at heart I began to sense that a workable and empathic rapport could be established such that the terms of the order might be met whilst looking together at what I believed was a more desistance focused approach.
One of the abiding concerns that seemed to throw this supervisory framework out of kilter was what Kojo lamented as his 'unchanging' and 'shameful' designation as a 'Sex Offender' and I was keenly aware of the need perhaps to broaden my perspective on ways that might ensure the order was better worked with such contested court mandated requirements in place.
In part, the order began to work better as aspects of Kojo's domestic situation improved. His family relationships started to mend after some of the damaging fallout of the conviction and his employment prospects improved. The discussions centring on the take up of a place on the group work programme foundered at the beginning.
As time progressed, we reached a point in one-to-one supervision where I believed I had set in motion a platform for increased self-understanding and confident willingness to talk about his index offences with a skilled facilitator. The feedback from such meetings provided an important marker of graduated progress and I began to sense the development of a more resilient mindset. I could see this was aided by strengths in his coping with some of the evident tensions of his status. Such tensions and strong feelings around this were often worsened after mandatory police visits to his home.
The discussions that arose from such visits almost scuppered the progress he was making on his order. He was' resentfully' determined not to allow the police any role in his rehabilitation! But his attitude did modify, again, after many lively supervisory meetings. Another unexpected factor that threatened to destabilise the progress of his order was what he perceived to be the 'hostile interrogative style' of a local probation manager who was also overseeing his supervision.
A therapeutic approach
I recall with some residual exasperation that at the time I was similarly learning to cope with the somewhat 'punitive style' of one-size-fits-all managerialism, then prevalent in the probation service, and the need for a more therapeutic approach which was clearly working for Kojo.
Prompted by the newly formulated governmental response to upskirting, a similar offence for which Kojo was convicted, it brings to mind a remark from Kojo towards the end of his supervision.
'Mike, I was really bothered by what I had done ... but you helped me to see how I can fix it so I don't have to see you again!'
Mike Guilfoyle is a retired probation officer