Supervisors of offenders on unpaid work schemes are increasingly being subjected to threats, and verbal and physical abuse, with many complaining of feeling intimidated and afraid, according to a new survey.But ... I thought these were the guys who didn't need to go to prison - the nice chaps that Ken Clarke knew how to deal with !
The report, by the probation officers' union, Napo, details hundreds of incidents in London, Merseyside and Hertfordshire over recent months. In Hertfordshire, one offender told a male supervisor he was going to kill him and rape his four-year-old-daughter. Another slashed the car tyres of a female supervisor and told her: "I know here you live and I'm going to get you and your family."
At least two supervisors have had to lock themselves in a vehicle to escape physical violence and one member of staff was left cut and bleeding after a stone was thrown at him by an offender.
The situation has become so serious that a protection system has been set up for supervisors in the south-west of England.
You can see why so many probation supervisors allow their charges to sit around and do damn-all except skin up - as this ITV programme (available for next 25 days) shows us. The report (download is Word doc) is exceeding revealing of just how much contempt the 'clients' have for the organs of the state :
An offender was instructed to work on a garden site and clear weeds. Later in the day the supervisor used the gents toilet, was not able to get out and it became apparent this was because the offender was holding the door shut. Eventually the supervisor managed to get out of the toilet. The offender told him it was a joke. He was told this sort of behaviour was not acceptable. The offender became very aggressive and started to shout at the supervisor saying ‘You don’t know what we do here. Don’t look at me like that, I am going to thump you now you ******* idiot. Are you going to breach me? You can’t do a ******* thing’.
Can't do a thing, eh ?
"The offender was subsequently sent home".
That chap might be a scumbag, but there's nothing wrong with his powers of analysis, nor with those of the criminal who asked his supervisor "why don't you get a proper job you fat ****?"
There is of course a subtext to all this. NAPO wouldn't give the people who pay their wages such a revealing glimpse of what goes on, were there not a pressing need to increase the number of probation officers and to pay them more.
Community service came into being in 1976. The idea was that as an alternative to custody offenders would complete up to 240 unpaid hours of work in the community. The thinking then was that the work would contribute toward rehabilitation, that it would not replace paid employment and that it would be of benefit to the community. Last year over 55,000 individuals were sentenced to unpaid work in the community. About a third were given individual placements, such as in a charity shop, the rest were given group work placements. However Napo has observed that groups that were originally supposed to be at a ratio of one supervisor to six offenders have grown; often over a dozen offenders now attend one group with the same number of supervisors. Staff have also complained that it is now rare to have a probation officer (or even a probation service officer, who has less training) on site. Indeed, placements are increasingly staff by sessional workers who are not contracted employees but are paid on an hourly rate. Often the only contact the offenders have with the service is through hourly-paid, sessional, supervisors who are paid on average £8.50 per hour and who often have full-time paid work elsewhere and use the unpaid work to supplement their income... sessional supervisors are increasingly reporting that they are scared on site and reluctant to report bad behaviour for fear of reprisals.
The report shows not only the increasing anarchy in the non-custodial criminal justice system, but the increasing influence of non-anarchist actors - gangs - in the inner city :
The most recent serious incident occurred on 31 July in Hackney where, as a 19-year-old offender was leaving the community service site at Brook House College in London E5, he was shot five times by an assailant using a handgun...It is thought quite possible that one of the offenders on the group phoned the assailant with relevant information. All the offenders on the placement have been interviewed by officers from Trident. This follows two other recent incidents in North London... Staff are now unable to send known gang members to do placements other than in the individual’s postal district. There are similar constraints on placements in other cities such as Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool.
Note also that the guys getting the crap are at the £8.50 an hour end of the spectrum. If Rod Morgan or Professor Peter King got threatened or had their tyres slashed on a more regular basis I like to think we'd see some radical new crime reduction initiatives being proposed.