Being A Probation Officer - By Jim Brown ( Serving Probation Officer )

"Well, as a probation officer, lets have a stab at a response. I'm speaking for myself and how I see things from the perspective of over 25 years experience and when we all had to be qualified social workers.

Being a probation officer is not about winning a popularity contest, it's about doing a job that has two elements that can be in conflict. On the one hand we're there to help an offender stop offending and on the other we're aiming to help protect the public. If you succeed with the former, you achieve the latter. But it doesn't always follow and it is often much more complex.

Lifers are a special group that present particular challenges. Like it or not, probation officers have the job of helping the Parole Board decide if it is safe to release someone. I can say, hand on heart, that I have always done my level best to help every lifer make progress towards release. It would be naive in the extreme to pretend that this is easy for some prisoners who, for whatever reason, decide not to co-operate. But I have always taken the view that the State pays my salary to just keep on trying and to the best of my professional ability.

It takes a degree of tenacity to handle indifference, antagonism, minimisation, denial, obfuscation, manipulation and very rarely abuse, but in the end I'm paid to absorb it, challenge it, try and understand it and most importantly interpret and assess it for the Parole Board.

It should go without saying that the job is easier and the outcome more likely to be positive if all this work is undertaken in a spirit of co-operation and mutual respect. If not, it doesn't stop the work, it just means that the whole process takes infinitely longer and the chances of a positive outcome recedes significantly.

By the way, none of this has anything to do with targets, or 'working for victims'. It's a professional piece of work undertaken for society at large to try and rehabilitate offenders and protect the public. With lifers the re-offending rates are pretty good, but there are always likely to be a few that repeat earlier serious violent behaviour. Sadly nowadays, probation officers are likely to get the blame for such behaviour, which is precisely why this job can never be just about winning popularity."