The Magistrate's Blog (2005-2012)

This blog has migrated to www.magistratesblog.blogspot.co.uk This blog is anonymous, and Bystander's views are his and his alone. Where his views differ from the letter of the law, he will enforce the letter of the law because that is what he has sworn to do. If you think that you can identify a particular case from one of the posts you are wrong. Enough facts are changed to preserve the truth of the tale but to disguise its exact source.

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Location: Near London, United Kingdom

The blog is written by a retired JP, with over 30 years' experience on the Bench.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Probation in the Firing Line

The papers are all carrying stories this morning suggesting that the Home Secretary is going to 'do something' about failures in the Probation Service. There is concern about a number of horrible crimes that have been committed by people under Probation supervision, the latest being the abduction torture and murder in Reading

Before the political grandstanding starts, let's make sure that we are not asking the impossible of Probation Officers. Five of the six men convicted in Reading were on various community orders, all for relatively low-level offences. Is it reasonable to expect an overworked Probation Officer to forsee that someone under supervision for Class C possession is going to commit a brutal murder? At most the offender would have been seen about once a week for an interview, probably rather less. Scarce resources are allocated according to laid-down priorities, the highest being prisoners released on licence. Small-time drug users are right at the back of the queue for attention.

The Monckton murder is different, as the two killers' violent nature was known, and there were serious failures in the way that they were handled. Many in the Press are using this tragedy as a peg on which to hang a campaign against all early releases of prisoners - last weekend's News of the World was dominated by a gloating piece about the 'lotto rapist' who outraged the tabloids by winning millions of pounds with a ticket that he bought while on day release. Despite supposition and innuendo, what the coverage came down to was that the man had gone for a walk and bought and eaten a pie.

In common with much of the criminal justice system, Probation has been very badly messed about in recent years. In less than half the span of a normal career the underlying ethos has turned 180 degrees, from advising and befriending to supervising punishment and assessing risk. Throughout this time the service has been short of cash - a few years back my court had two probation staff instead of the six we were supposed to have, and a lot of Probation functions simply were not carried out.

So before putting panicky measures in place, I hope that the Home Secretary has a good think about what we expect probation to do. If they are going to be asked to do more, they will have to be funded to do it.