I saw an advert in the paper that described working with people with behavioural issues and trying to help them change. It also offered a paid degree – which was nice, because I love to study. I used to think about what I could do to help people, so this seemed to link everything together.
I didn’t really know what the job was going to be at all. I wasn’t as worldwise as other people who were doing the job – I didn’t grow up in a city, and had quite a pleasant upbringing, so I hadn’t really been exposed to the sheer trauma that some people had in their lives. I guess I was quite naïve in that sense; I didn’t know what was coming. But one of the first things I noticed is that there is always a reason.
If you’re a probation officer in a field team – which is the front line of probation – you usually have a caseload of about fifty or sixty people, which has increased massively over recent years. My role is essentially to monitor the clients; find out who they’ve been associating with, what activities they’ve been involved in and making sure they’re not taking part in any risky behaviour. It’s also about trying to support them in changing their behaviour and talking about their thought processes.
You’re constantly assessing all areas of the person’s life. How risky are they? How likely are they to reoffend? How likely are they to potentially hurt somebody? You’re always reflecting on that. If you’re working with someone who has been released from prison and you think something has gone wrong, or that they’re not following the rules, we instigate a recall, which results in them going back to prison. That’s done immediately, so they don’t have time to do something wrong. That’s the sort of thing that tends to hit the headlines.
It can be a lot of pressure. I don’t want to lock everyone up when we can try and work with them, but equally we don’t want to create any more victims. That’s on my mind every day. I carry my work around with me and think about my clients a lot. When you see that someone’s been stabbed on the news, the first thing in my mind is, “Has my client done that?”. The Inspector of Probation governs us, and one of the key aspects they focus on is staff wellbeing. Seeing how we deal with the stress this job causes has become quite a hot topic.
One of the biggest challenges is the number of cases you deal with. I don’t have the time to double-check every decision I make out of fear I might have missed something. Since 2014, some probation work has been outsourced to private companies. Fortunately, the Government has announced that it will all be coming back into public management, which is really important. I hate the idea of profit being made out of this type of stuff. I hope that the emphasis comes back to understanding the needs of the individual person.
Being a female probation officer has never been a problem in my experience. In fact, the vast majority of probation officers, particularly in Nottingham, are women. There’s a nationwide issue with recruitment and it’s being heavily directed at young women. But a new delivery system is seeing more probation officers going into prisons, which could be problematic with sending women into male prisons. In some respects I feel a lot safer as a woman, as a lot of the people I work with have childhood trauma and abuse that is most often caused by a man.
I don’t see myself leaving probation any time soon, but I do feel that I’ve done all I can. When I was younger, I had no idea what I’d end up doing – but it all started with that advert in the newspaper. About eighteen months ago I found a little piece of paper when I was moving house. It was from a careers advisor that I’d been to when I was about seventeen. Back then, I had thought about being a clinical psychologist, but after meeting the advisor, they’d matched me up with the career that best suited me as a person. I’d completely forgotten that this piece of paper even existed, but I turned it over and read the job that suited me the best – it said probation officer.