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Mistakes made by probation should be a cause of concern to all

Back in 2014, Chris Grayling introduced the privatisation of the probation service. The system was heavily criticised by MP’s and Mary’s story demonstrates just what was going wrong.


Several years ago, along with an accomplice, I “earned” approximately £2000 by claiming refunds for items I owned which I declared were faulty when in fact they were not – this is legally defined as fraud by false representation. I claimed for 6 items in total over a 2 week period before realising how stupid I had been.

Approximately 6 months later and totally out of the blue, I received a text message from my accomplice telling me that he’d just been raided by the police; his computers had been seized and he’d been asked to attend a voluntary interview at the police station. He was advised by his solicitor to do a ‘no comment’ interview.

As you can imagine, I was extremely worried that the police would visit me too; every night I went to bed not knowing whether I’d get a knock on the door the next day. It finally came 4 months later.

The police removed all of my electronic devices and ‘invited’ me to attend an interview and it was only then that I discovered my accomplice had continued with his offending behaviour.

To start with, our case went to the Magistrates Court but was then transferred to the Crown Court. Prior to my appearance in court I was sent a letter by the probation team with a whole raft of questions, for example “what had led to my offending, what were the chances of my offending again?” Considering I’d not entered any plea, it felt quite presumptuous of probation to assume I was guilty.

At the end of the court hearing I was sentenced to 9 months in prison, suspended for two years with a requirement to attend sessions with my probation officer throughout my sentence.

I received my first letter from probation a month later and was surprised to read that I’d apparently missed my initial appointment and, unless I could explain my reasons for this within the next 5 days, I would be returned to court. Of course, I contacted my probation officer immediately and she accepted my explanation that I’d never received any details of that first appointment.

Over the next month, I attended four meetings before being told that the probation office would be closing but I’d be sent details of the new office to report to. I heard nothing more for 4 months and, growing more and more concerned that I should have been attending meetings, I rang the office. I was told that my probation officer was away but she’d call me back.

A further 2.5 months passed before I was given another appointment and this was only because I’d made it my business to chase up probation. On the day of my meeting, my ‘usual’ probation officer wasn’t available and so I was seen by somebody else. Once again, I was told I’d be sent a follow up appointment and once again, I heard nothing.

I’m sure I’d have heard nothing more from probation were in not for the fact that I decided to enrol for a course at my local college. As my conviction was still unspent I had to disclose it and I was asked by the college to attend a risk assessment and also, to provide the contact details for my probation officer.

This appeared to spark some renewed interest from probation and I went on to have another two meetings until once again, my officer went off sick. Once again, this lack of a named probation officer resulted in another allegation of a missed appointment and a further letter threatening me with a return to court.

This catalogue of errors must be hard to believe but I can assure you that I’m not the only one. The following was a headline in The Times newspaper:

Public at risk after privatised probation firm lost offenders.

The paper reported that a probation company had lost track of individuals it was supervising and others hadn’t been seen for months. It highlighted a combination of unmanageable caseloads and inexperienced officers.

I did everything I could to try to engage with probation. I didn’t want to miss appointments, my only wish was to complete the sentence given to me and move on.

I hope that once the probation service is bought back under public control early next year, we’ll no longer see this kind of mismanagement happening again.

By Mary (name changed to protect identity)

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  • Information – We have practical self-help information on probation.
  • Discuss this issue – There are some interesting discussions relating to probation on our online forum.

Probation, ‘borderline’ offenders and the need for boundaries

One person in 20 is currently living with a personality disorder and a large proportion of these are women. Symptoms vary but in Stacey’s case she struggled with her emotions and relationships with others. She feels strongly that probation officers need more training to enable them to understand the difficulties of working with people with personality disorders.

The first meeting with my probation officer started off badly. She had read my case notes which said I was ‘high risk’ and made it clear she had reservations about supervising me. I had Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and was known to struggle to manage my emotions. The Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) had refused to help me saying first that there was no treatment for BPD and then, after my arrest, that I was obviously in crisis and so unable to engage, so I was used to knock backs.

Nevertheless, I was a little disappointed with her attitude and the fact that she had pre-judged me. I had never had a probation officer before and didn’t know what to expect. I was 55 years old and this was my first time in prison. I was looking forward to going home to my partner and I was sure that I would not be returning to prison.

After my release I saw my probation officer twice a week. I attended all my appointments and didn’t offend further, so after a couple of months they were cut down to one a week. I wasn’t getting any help from the CMHT but it didn’t seem to matter because I could talk to my probation officer. She’d softened towards me since our initial meeting and I looked forward to seeing her each week.

We spoke about issues I was having but equally, we discussed her and her personal life.

“Enough about you, did I tell you about what I did last weekend?” she’d say.”

I liked talking to her. She was funny, intelligent and interesting. She seemed to care about me. We discussed my issues with attachment, a common symptom of BPO, and she seemed to understand what a serious problem it was for me. The feelings can become so intense that some people become obsessed and even resort to stalking. I hadn’t, but I understood how easy it could be to reach that stage.

We talked about anything and everything, and we laughed, a lot. I was becoming attached to her, and she knew it. She asked if I wanted a different officer; I declined. The best way of curtailing this type of attachment is to have no contact with the subject. However, the one with the attachment will not break the contact because they yearn for that person’s attention.

Half way through my probation period I was told by a senior officer that I would now only need to see my officer every two weeks. I had been doing well and the concerns of supervising me, exhibited at the beginning, seemed to have lessened. This should have been good news. It wasn’t; I was devastated. I started to think of the time when I wouldn’t be able to see her, and I couldn’t bear it. I thought of the railway track and how much I wanted to end my life. I don’t know how I managed the drive home. I felt numb, yet desperate.

Once home, I couldn’t settle. I sent an email to the probation officer, complaining about never getting any help from CMHT. She phoned me, but I didn’t answer. I knew I wouldn’t be able to talk because I was crying so much. She asked the police to carry out a safe and well check, but they refused. Over the weekend, I sent more emails to my probation officer, threatening anyone she might send to my door. I wasn’t serious but I needed to do or say something extreme so that I could calm down. On the Monday I was arrested and charged with malicious communication. I pleaded guilty. The police said they had a statement from my officer to say she was upset at receiving the emails. The magistrate was sympathetic to my feelings but said he couldn’t allow anyone to send vitriolic comments to probation staff. He sentenced me to 6 weeks in prison.

While in the cell awaiting transport, my probation officer came to see me. She told me that her manager had recalled me to prison to serve the rest of my initial sentence, another 6 months. She also said she had not made a statement and was neither angry or upset at my emails. She thought the whole saga was ‘sad’. Despite the fact that I would have to serve another 6 months in prison, I was happy that she wasn’t angry with me.

After my release, despite the emails, and perhaps proving that she had not been upset the same probation officer continued to supervise me for the seven months extended probation I had been given. I was still attached to her and grateful that I would be seeing her every week. Our relationship went back to the way it was before my arrest and one day, she became emotional and apologised for what had happened. Looking back, I don’t know if she had genuinely wanted to help me or had encouraged my attachment. She game me a lot of information about herself but when I then tried to probe further, she said it was inappropriate. Either way, the thought of not seeing her was more than I could bear. I said it was OK, I didn’t blame her, and it was true. How could I blame her for being kind?

I do question however, why probation officers (and possibly police and prison officers) do not have the kind of awareness training that warns them about attachments so that they can set boundaries. Individuals with BPD can be extremely vulnerable and prone to overplay the smallest act of kindness shown to them. I was told that a forensic psychologist was available to give advice to officers at my probation office. Clearly the advice did not cover those with severe attachment issues.

Since leaving prison, I have been working to raise awareness of BPD and associated attachment issues. One in ten people with BPD end their own lives; I was very nearly part of that statistic.

By Stacey  (name changed to protect identity)

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My probation officer is never going to be my friend but I have a better understanding of her job now

Source: Abobe Stock

During the time she was on licence from prison, Sally had a difficult relationship with her probation officer. It’s only with the benefit of hindsight that she’s able to see why probation did things the way they did and how understanding her offending behaviour has made her a better person.

I’m under no illusion that many of you reading this will vehemently disagree with what I say. If I were reading it several years ago I would have too and, I think that’s the point I’m trying to make.

During my last year in prison, I became aware of my probation officer. She’d visited my family home to do an assessment prior to my being allowed home for 3 days every month and she’d filled in the necessary paperwork which allowed me to be released on tag. My partner described her as ‘OK’ when she’d visited him at home but I totally got that she wasn’t going to be our friend and was grateful that she seemed competent and professional.

The day I left prison I met my probation officer in person for the first time. Hilary (not her real name) went through the various conditions of my licence and explained to me that as my conviction related to a work-related offence, I had to seek her approval before accepting any offer of employment and she said I would have to disclose my conviction to an employer even if they didn’t ask me about it. She gave me a form to fill in to

Help identify potential risk factors and any areas of concern.

In my view, the form just highlighted what I knew already – I wasn’t a risk to anybody and getting a job was high on my list of priorities. But to Hilary, the form seemed to be saying something very different – without a job I’d have no money and would be at risk of reoffending.

In total I was on licence for 2 years. I met Hilary regularly (weekly, then two weekly and for the last 6 months I was able to attend monthly) and each meeting I had with her lasted about an hour.

It became clear that we had different views and opinions on practically everything.

  • I wanted to put the past behind me and move on – she wanted to get to the bottom of my offending behaviour.
  • I told her that despite my parents divorcing when I was 5, I’d had an extremely happy childhood and had a good relationship with both parents – she told me that their divorce must have caused me some trauma.
  • I told her that I was coping well with the events of the last few years and had no mental health concerns – she told me I would benefit from counselling.

I’m sure you’re getting the gist of this ‘relationship’.

I was offered several jobs and was never asked if I had a criminal record but, due to the conditions of my licence, I had to disclose and the job offer was immediately revoked. I asked Hilary why, if she thought that I would reoffend if I didn’t have a job, why was she making it so difficult for me to get one. She wasn’t helping me, just putting obstacles in the way.

I lost count of the number of times I moaned and complained to friends and family about her

Bloody woman’s in the wrong job, she should have been a psychotherapist not a probation officer.

I did eventually get a job which Hilary approved of and, on my last supervision session before my licence ended, I was able to tell her that I had just been promoted. I remember being surprised when she congratulated me, shook my hand and told me she was proud of me.

Although my relationship with Hilary wasn’t easy, I never thought about complaining. I just accepted the fact that she had a job to do, even if she did it in a weird way. And, lets not forget, it was my own offending behaviour that had put me in that position.

Looking back at that time now I can see that there were lots of reasons why Hilary did what she did, even though it made little sense to me at the time.

When I left prison I just wanted to put all that stuff behind me and start my life again. I knew that I was mentally strong and I just wanted to carry on as I’d left off before my conviction (albeit without breaking the law). But, Hilary knew better than anyone that you can’t have been convicted and imprisoned without it leaving some mark. I can see now that she was trying to rein me in a bit, help me to take some time to adapt to life after prison and to give some thought to why I did what I did. She wanted me to walk before I ran.

Although I just wanted to concentrate on the future, Hilary wanted me to better understand the past – the triggers and patterns to my offending.

Going through this whole process and coming out of it the other end has definitely made me a better person with more insight in what makes me tick. I’ll admit now that Hilary played a big part in making that happen.

By Sally  (name changed to protect identity)

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  • Information – We have practical self-help information on probation.
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Honesty was the best policy when dealing with my probation officers

Since his conviction, Len has been subject to supervision by probation. So far, his experiences have been quite positive and his probation officers have proved to be a great source of help to him; Len believes this is, in part, due to his willingness to be open and honest with them.



My offence carries the worst stigma out of most of them because it’s a sexual offence; not contact related but for downloading illegal content which is unfortunately becoming an increasingly common offence these days.

I’m coming up to 3 years sober from drugs, alcohol and porn and it’s safe to say that I’m a law abiding citizen and have learned a very hard lesson from my mistakes. My views will be more closely related to those who have a sexual offence and subject to notification requirements.

I’ve learnt several things when dealing with probation but rule number one is definitely ….. DON’T MESS WITH THEM.

You’ll be spending a lot of time with these people so it’s best to be brutally honest at all times. The two probation officers I’ve had are well meaning, decent people whose interest is in seeing me progress whilst keeping me accountable for my actions. Their primary role is prevention of crime but they’ve also got a vested interest in encouraging positive developments in your life. Most want you to succeed, but a lot of that is down to you and how willing you are to help them help you.

Even before I attended my first probation meeting, I’d sat down and wrote a long essay about how I got into my situation. This helped to keep things consistent and has been really useful when my probation officer has changed.

It’s likely that you’ll learn new things that you didn’t know or realise when you initially wrote your story. However being honest will help probation identify and discuss with you any suitable courses of action, i.e. are drugs a problem? or do you have problems socialising, is there any unresolved trauma in your life that needs to be dealt with etc.

I’d always recommend that you keep probation up to date with things that are going on in your life or any time constraints you have, for example if your appointment is at 5pm and you’re at work and can’t get there on time, then tell them as soon as possible so your appointment can be rearranged. Officers can be flexible but they’ll appreciate you giving them plenty of notice. If you fail to attend but don’t tell them until the following day, that wouldn’t go down well and unless you have a really good, genuine reason it could go down as as breach. Being hospitalised is a genuine reason for not physically being able to attend and can be checked out. However, going on a bender and not turning up because you’re hungover isn’t.

Probation staff aren’t trained psychologists or experts in criminal law, you may end up educating them on a few things but they’ll twig if you’re being obstructive, defensive or trying to change the subject all the time so always be open and upfront.

Make sure you tell them about any successes you have or anything you’ve done which is constructive, even if it’s as mundane as painting your ceiling or going out for a long walk.

If you’re worried about something tell them. This could be a problem you’re facing or difficulties in dealing with people, threats you might receive or harassment etc. If they don’t know they can’t help. If it is something very serious they have a duty to report it, such as your life being in danger.

If there’s something you’re unsure about, like whether or not to apply for a particular job, ask them about it. It’s always a good idea to get a bit of common sense guidance before you go ahead and do something.

Maybe I’ve been lucky with the probation officers I’ve had but from the start my intention was to forge a good relationship with them. By being upfront and honest I’m sure I never gave them any cause for concern which could have been the reason why they’re so decent to me.

By Len (name changed to protect identity)


A comment from Unlock

Len seems to have a good relationship with his probation officer and this is something we would always encourage. If you’re truthful and sincere, probation are more likely to view you as low risk which ultimately helps when making any type of request to them, for example working in certain jobs, travelling abroad etc.

There are times however when officers fail to do something they should do, make unjustified decisions or take inappropriate action. If this happens then it may be that the only option open to you would be to make a formal complaint.

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  • Comment – Let us know your thoughts on this post by commenting below
  • Information – We have some practical information on probation
  • Discuss this issue – There are some interesting discussions related to this issue on our online forum.

Getting permission from probation to return overseas to my husband and family

We’re always encouraging people to try and build good relationships with their probation officer, however difficult this can sometimes be. Rosie explains the assistance she was given by her probation officer and the benefits of seeking peer advice, in this case from the Unlock forum.

To say that I’ve had the year from hell is an understatement. At the beginning of the year I was convicted of a white collar crime and given a suspended sentence and 300 hours of unpaid work. Up until the time I was arrested (May 2016) I’d been living with my husband 5,000 miles away from the UK but whilst awaiting my court appearance and sentencing I hadn’t been allowed to leave the UK.

As he sentenced me, the judge said he hoped that after completing my unpaid work requirements I would be allowed to return home to my family. It took me just 6 weeks to complete the 300 hours (I worked six days a week, 8 hours a day) and I sold my house to ‘’ at a greatly reduced price in order to raise the funds quickly to return to my country of residence.

As I was finishing my last day at the charity shop where I worked and saying goodbye to all my new friends, I received a call from my probation officer telling me that there was no way I would be allowed to return home until my suspended prison sentence was completed; 22.5 months away. I was absolutely devastated. I was homeless, had no job, no savings, a crucified reputation, the lot. I couldn’t understand the purpose of keeping me in the UK. I was classed as low risk and my probation officer had already told me that she would no longer need to see me.

I contacted loads of solicitors and other specialists but nobody could help. I was told again and again to keep my head down and wait out the end of my sentence. But I’d lost everything and there was no way that I was going to lose my marriage as well. So, as I sat on a friends’ settee one evening surfing the internet, I came across the Unlock forum and added a post asking if anybody had been in a similar situation to me and what advice they could offer.

It wasn’t long before I got a response from somebody who’d been through something similar and offered me some help. He gave me some fantastic advice about my legal standing with probation and suggested I research information around the right to family life etc. I’d built up a good relationship with my probation officer and I could tell that she was as frustrated with my situation as I was. Every piece of useful information that I found which I thought might help me get home I sent to her, bombarding her with details of other similar cases that I’d found online. I had nothing to lose and nothing else to do.

The solicitor who’d dealt with my original case was pretty useless. I truly have lost a lot of respect for the legal system, it seems all they’re interested in is money. I can honestly say that I got a lot more help from the Unlock forum than my legal team.

I’m not sure whether it was the information I sent to probation or the fact that they were just sick of my tenacity but a couple of weeks ago my wonderful probation officer called me to say that she’d taken my case to the Deputy Director of Probation and that I should book my flight, pack my case and return home. I was free to go.

So here I am 5,000 miles away with our rescue animals (8 so far). My husband is the happiest man on the planet and I’ve already received a job offer. Life is good. I’m determined to stay in touch with the guy that helped me on the Unlock forum. I really hope that one day I’ll be able to help him as much as he helped me.

If I can give any advice as far as my dealings with probation go, it would be to be polite and honest, do exactly as they tell you and give them no reason to dislike you. I know that having my probation officer on my side really helped me. Not only was she able to present my case to the Deputy Director but, as I’d always been very upfront with her, she was confident in supporting my application to move overseas.

I’m keen to put the last couple of years behind me and start to live my new life overseas.

By Rosie (name changed to protect identity)


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