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Transition of Communication in Probation

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The Probation Service has a long history of listening to offenders on an individual level (click here, page 4), however, Telephone calls are now classed as appointments.

Many Probation Officers I speak to on a daily basis in permanent and temporary positions feel demoralised with the wave of telephone interviews with service users in comparison to the traditional face-to-face interviews. Probation Officers join the profession with the intention of rehabilitating offenders but some argue that this can only be effectively achieved with face to face interviews. Phone interviews can be disrupted, service users can be reluctant to open up without face to face communication and it can be harder for the Probation Officer to gauge responses and ask probing questions to monitor the service user’s progress.

This ineffectiveness may result in the service user being unable to access multi-agencies and not be guided to rehabilitation due to the lack of support from the Offender Manager. Offender Managers caseload has been increased due to the numbers in team reducing, which may have been caused because of redundancies, long-term sick cover, maternity/paternity leave. The Offender Managers, I am in contact with on a regular basis are under pressure of meeting deadlines and do not agree with the encouraged reduced face-to-face contact with service users as they witness the adverse reaction telephone interviews have. Despite this, Offender Managers are being encouraged by their Line Manager’s to adapt to the telephone interviews method simply to meet targets.

Service users are advised ‘Never miss a meeting with your Supervising Officer without letting them know before and asking for permission’ (click here. Page 4) as advised from the booklet handed to service users recommending the ‘Basic Probation Rules’ and the Gov.uk website (click here).

Ian Lawrence of Napo said that supervision now is ‘‘Offenders are being phoned up and asked, “Have you committed a crime since I last spoke to you?”” (click here), this can damage the relationship between a service user and the Offender Manager which can result in the service user not adhering to his/her treatment plan. If this happens Transforming Rehabilitation would be a failure.

The lack of Face-to-face contact is going further with The Lancashire Evening Post reporting ‘Offenders to sign in using machines instead of meeting Officers’ (click here). This demonstrates the transition of communication within the Probation Services in the U.K. The real questions are; will Relationship Management between Service Users and Offender Managers be sustained? Will Treatment Plans be adhered too? Will Transformation Rehabilitation be a success?

Many Senior Probation Officers do not agree with the modern interviewing methods but with the mounting deadlines and increasing ratio of cases per Offender Manager coerces them to ensure their team adapts the new methods. In the wider business world, it is accepted that ‘Face-to-face meetings are still the most effective way to capture the attention of participants, engage them in the conversation, and drive productive collaboration’ (click here) which we could say is essential in Probation to build trust and understanding between service users and Offender Managers. Finally, the interesting question is how and when will these new methods be audited to compare the effectiveness against the traditional methods?
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