From education to employment

The Conversion of a Probation Officer to the Benefits of Education over Approbation

At the 30th Anniversary celebratory event for the Prince’s Trust yesterday, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales spoke of the need to educate offenders and support them in their efforts to re ““ enter society as productive participants rather than pariahs, referring to the need to ensure that “young offenders do not become old offenders.”

The concept of lowering the rate of re ““ offending has been a popular theme in recent months, with the high cost to the taxpayer of supporting the crowded jail system. It has been demonstrated through a number of statistical surveys that those offenders who are afforded the opportunity to train and learn are much less likely to re ““ offend. This leads not only to fewer people entering the penal system (thus lowering the burden on taxpayers) but also allows them to enter the workforce legally.

The Conversion of a Probation Officer

Often, however, those working within prisons or in probation find it difficult to maintain this attitude in the face of the trying conditions within which they work, facing their own and their charges” pre ““ conceptions of offenders and jail. One of the Basic Skills Agency’s priorities is set out to be `Engaging the Disengaged`. Amongst the “disengaged”, offenders figure prominently as being one of the hardest to reach in educational terms.

One probation officer from the West Midlands was skeptical to begin with, saying: “Like many other Probation Officers, the emergence of Basic Skills impacted upon my consciousness as yet another, arguably, politically driven target, cascading down from the Home Office. Intellectually I could accept that there was a link between poor literacy/numeracy, self-esteem, life skills and life opportunities, and offending behaviour. In practice it was yet another form to fill out.”


After explaining that they now believed in the need to educate in the service, the submission went on to give the example of “C”, a sex offender. The offender had had a troubled upbringing: “He has had an appalling upbringing characterised by family violence and alcoholism. He had few friends. Those friends he did have seemed to share his characteristic of being an `outsider`; a marginalised `odd boy` with poor social skills and precious little confidence. He left school with rudimentary skills in the 3 “R`s”. “C” was, in short, a man with no sense of self-worth, severely lacking in self confidence, and having no sense personal power.”

Following referral to the Basic Skills Agency in 2004, he began to experience positive changes in his life: “At the end of February he sat (and passed) a Level 1 literacy examination. He was delighted. For the first time he had official recognition confirming his competence; he had proved to himself that by application and with support, he could achieve goals.”

The Probation Officer went on: “His sense of self-worth has increased dramatically over the past 8 months. He is altogether more relaxed in himself and in his dealings with others. Given that very low self-esteem is a common characteristic of sex offenders, it is plain to see that for those who lack Basic Skills, addressing the issue can be of major benefit.” The Probation Officer concluded: “So I`m a convert. Of all the initiatives, directives, targets and accompanying paperwork, paperwork, paperwork, I can, with hand on heart, say “I have no problems with Basic Skills”.”

Jethro Marsh

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