Thursday, 20 October 2011

Interview - Hannah Cross - Probation Service

The BFTF radio show was chuffed to have the opportunity to talk to Hannah Cross from the probation service this week. Hannah was promoting a new initiative from the probation service called the “Community Mentors” project.

More about that in a moment, but lets start at the beginning of the interview. . .

BFTF asked Hannah about the origins of the probation service and Hannah explained how it had begun as the work of missionaries in the 18th century who were charged with giving guidance to offenders who were released into the community. Later, the practice became a matter of statute and courts employed “probation officers” to fulfil this role.

BFTF was a little confused about the difference between “probation” and “parole” and Hannah explained that offenders are allocated a probation officer soon after they enter the criminal justice system and the probation service stays involved until well after the offender has completed their sentence, offering help and advice to integrate them back into the community and steer them towards a stable, crime-free life.

In contrast,"Parole" is the term of a report that we write when individuals who have been given long term sentences are due to come out of custody. Its called a "Parole Report" In addition when people come out of prison they are subject to supervision with a Probation Officer which again can be referred to as "Parole or more commonly "a licence"

Hannah went on to explain that one possible source for my confusion is that the US (and thus US made TV crime dramas) use the term “parole officer” to describe the same job that “Probation officers” do in the UK. Hannah suggested that perhaps BFTF should watch a little less Prison Break. . .

One surprise to BFTF was that the stereotypical image of a probation officer is a big imposing ex-army type, so it was a surprise to hear that Hannah, who was the exact opposite of the stereotype, had been a probation officer for several years and had to deal with offenders right across the scale from those who were serving community service sentences to those who were serving life in prison. She explained that a probation officer might typically have 60 offenders allocated to them at any one time and that, without exception, she had found all the probation officers she had worked with to be dedicated individuals who were genuinely concerned with giving offenders the help and support (in conjunction with other agencies) to nudge their lives back to the straight and narrow. Achieving success in this was one of the most satisfying parts of the job as a probation officer.

Moving on to the COMMUNITY MENTORS project, Hannah explained that mentoring was a very effective method of reducing the likelihood of re-offending as well as helping offenders achieve purpose and live as a part of a stable community. In addition, the time spent with mentors was often the only part of the week where an offender was able to talk to someone who was able to give the offender 100% of their attention.

The project aims to recruit some 20-30 volunteers over the next year or so from Nottingham’s faith communities.

Encouragingly, the Probation service has found a number of Muslim organisations interested in promoting this initiative, including Karimia Institute and Himmah.

After training, volunteers are allocated an offender to mentor, typically giving 2hrs of mentoring time to the offender every week for a period of 6-12months. After this time, the mentor would be allocated another offender. Hannah emphasised that, whilst it would be great if mentors could pair up with offenders from similar cultures, this was not mandatory and there was the flexibility to accommodate the preferences of the mentor. In addition, mentors could be of either gender.

In terms of what kind of person would make a good mentor, Hannah suggested that people with life experience would be valuable. In addition. Mentors should be non-judgemental, understanding of people in difficult situations a good listener.

Two events have been organised at which people interested in this project can talk to the people involved and decide whether this is something that would like to pursue further:

Thursday 27th October, 6- 7.30pm - The New Art Exchange, Hyson Green

Tuesday 1st November, 7- 8.30pm - Trent Vineyard, Lenton

For further information, contact :
Hannah Cross, Volunteer Mentor Coordinator,
Nottinghamshire Probation Trust,
9 Castle Quay, Castle Boulevard, Nottingham, NG7 1FW

Links :
Nottingham Probation Service

Recent Home Office Research

NB: This is a summary of the interview, a more detailed post will be. . .er. . . posted once the audio file has been transcribed, inshallah.

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