Probationers who try and get criminals back on the straight and narrow
Hundreds of people have faced the courts in Kingston and Richmond in recent months, and it is down to the London Probation Trust to keep them on the straight and narrow.
Having watched too many American TV shows, I imagine those working in probation services to be personality-less men and women dressed in dull uniforms patrolling prisons.
But, as I enter the offices of a branch in High Street, Kingston, it seems like I really got the wrong end of the stick.
Those who work here are free of uniforms and are passionate about working with people to help better the community.
Probation officers work with offenders who are given community orders or custodial sentences of more than 12 months.
They provide support to get offenders back into education and gain qualifications and training, or help them find jobs in a bid to rehabilitate them back into the community where possible.
James Jolly, assistant chief officer at the Kingston and Richmond delivery unit, has been working with offenders for more than 10 years.
He said: “Some people might think probation is a public service that does not have much impact on their lives.
“We are invisible – and that’s fine, but I would argue that we work with people who may be prolific offenders and we make that contribution, aiming to make communities safer.
“It can be challenging – you are dealing with some horrendous offences. Violent and sexual offences can be stressful and demanding. But professional relationships build up, as do professional concerns.”
With many offenders on licensing conditions, cleaning up streets, parks and graffiti-ridden walls as well as working in charity shops – people have criticised community orders for being a soft touch.
Mr Jolly said: “There are some people that are better off with help. There are others where it is hard to see that they have changed.
"Often, change is a long process – for some people it can take a number of years. I would not claim it works for everyone, but it is effective for some.
“I would not say we are counsellors but I can see the parallels.
"We are intruding on people’s lives, asking them to talk about their deepest, darkest secrets and fears. It is shocking. It should always be shocking.”
Offenders can come from all walks of life, from confident and educated businessmen involved in money laundering to poorer offenders with lower self-esteem who are used to a life of crime.
In Kingston, the re- offending rate stands at 35 per cent, whereas Richmond has a rate of 30 per cent.
The two boroughs that come together as one of the 23 delivery units in London has domestic violence as its biggest problem, with Mr Jolly admitting the unit has worked on a number of high profile cases.
Probation officer Julie Osborne said: “We can work with people for a long time. We support people forever.
"If they are convicted of murder they will serve life, which might be 15 or 20 years, but then they will be on life call so we will be working with them until they die.
“I have had offenders say ‘I am sorry I have let you down’.
"A lot of my offenders say ‘You are firm but fair, Julie’.”
In another branch of the London Probation Trust lies the Victim Liaison Support, that provides information to victims about their offenders’ sentences, day releases and parole hearings.
A victim liaison officer, who did not want to be named due to distress it may cause to a victim, said: “You never know what to expect in a home visit.
"We have a duty to inform – we are an information-giving service, but sometimes people just want to talk.
“The ones who feel a lot of hate say ‘If I see this offender I do not know what I would do to them’.”
She also revealed how to deal with offenders trying to become too friendly.
She said: “There was one offender who had a previous of rape and he said 'You have not got a ring on your finger’. I just ignored it and carried on.
"Sometimes they want to give you a present or a hug, but you are not allowed."