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THE NEWCASTLE PROLIFIC AND PRIORITY OFFENDERS SCHEME

AN INNOVATIVE APPROACH TO
SUPERVISION AND MONITORING

The aim of the PPO Scheme is to offer real alternatives to crime to offenders
who may have previously believed that the choice to change did not exist.
PPOs are often highly disenfranchised with complex and desperate needs
characterised by social exclusion. Profiles include experience of drug misuse,
abusive relationships, homelessness, bereavement, a history of care, failure
to claim benefits/poverty, truancy from school, abuse (sexual, physical and/or
emotional), and sexual exploitation.

The offenders have often developed their own survival strategies which may
be sophisticated and require a complicated response. Many PPOs have a
history of failing to comply with supervision, often as a result of chaotic
lifestyles, a limited sense of self efficacy and a mistrust of authority. In order
to be effective in facilitating change and reducing re-offending, it has been
necessary for practitioners on the scheme to change our own practice as
much as the offenders have had to change their behaviour. The PPO
Scheme in Newcastle have focused on an innovative rehabilitation centred on
responsivity to individual need.

Initial Contacts

Becoming an identified ‘Prolific’ or ‘Priority’ Offender on the scheme is likely to


have consequences for individuals. It is a stigmatising label which has the
potential for oppressive practice. It is our experience that the tone set during
the first contact with an offender is key to their compliance. The meeting
usually takes place when the offender is in prison, at Court or in the cells,
often crisis times. The offender may therefore be more amenable to help.
We ensure a Probation and Police Officer are present and the offender’s
perceptions of ‘authority’ are challenged as the focus is on rehabilitation as
opposed to enforcement. Challenging the offenders’ expectations as to how a
Police Officer will interact with them is the first step towards pro-social
modelling.

Assertive Outreach in the Community

Almost all contacts with PPOs will take place in the community – at their
homes, at other partnership agencies, in the town, or wherever is most
appropriate. By adopting a pro-active approach in the community we have
found that offenders who have previously failed to engage have managed to
stay out of custody for long periods of time. The decision not to wait for the
offender to come to the office is critical to remove obstacles to compliance. In
addition, we often meet their family and friends and this increases our

Probation Officer
Newcastle PPO Scheme
Laura Seebohm
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knowledge and helps us develop a meaningful relationships with each


individual.

When an offender starts working with us on the scheme, high levels of


support are offered. This level of contact is usually required to address the
broader social and structural problems in their lives. In recent years Probation
practice has often focused on individual pathology such as cognitive skills.
Tackling the complexity of wider social problems is time consuming and
difficult. However, we have found that by focusing only on the internal
adjustments in thinking and motivation our success is limited. By initially
focusing our attention on the social and environmental factors, offenders soon
become receptive to addressing the individual psychological and emotional
factors. We must take into account the context of people’s daily lives in order
to progress.

Removing Barriers to Rehabilitation:

The underlying belief is that whilst working with this group we must review our
approach to compliance and on the PPO Scheme we make every possible
effort to facilitate contact. This approach has been open to criticism -
concerns have been raised that we have returned to the ‘advise, assist and
befriend’ value system which was previously discarded due to a lack of
compatibility with our enforcement role.

However, we have not found this to be the case. Small efforts such as
supplying bus passes and arranging appointments at times when offenders
are likely to attend reduces their opportunity to make excuses. If an offender
is not at home as arranged, every effort is made to find them and we keep
returning until contact is made. This reinforces the fact that they will not be
able to continue with the chaotic offending behaviour they are used to.
However, it also demonstrates our commitment to the offender. It is our
experience that after a period of time offenders start to trust our motivation
and believe that we genuinely care about their progress. This group of people
have rarely experienced such interest and attention to their well-being and in
most cases this seems to be the key to engagement.

Offenders on the scheme know that enforcement action is a last resort after
all efforts have been made (demonstrated by very low rate of Not Guilty pleas
for breach), so once contact is resumed the relationship is still positive.
Setbacks and relapses are expected and managed and neither worker nor
individual should become de-motivated as the emphasis must be on gradual
gains. Indeed, our key principle is ‘don’t give up’, as it will take time to
precipitate genuine change. It is easy to feel we are failing and become
despondent. As stated above, each PPO has a range of different needs and
we must embrace this complexity. Only when we chart back over a significant
period of time is it possible to really gauge progress made. Long term
commitment to maintain contact and commitment to retain a positive
relationship is key.

Probation Officer
Newcastle PPO Scheme
Laura Seebohm
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Responsivity

The PPO team are trained in Motivational Interviewing and this is the basis of
our approach. General resistance from the client is a trigger that we may
need to rethink our approach. There is little gained from attempting to
reinforce our approach or view point in opposition to the offender. An eclectic
mix of interventions has been fundamental to the scheme’s development. We
need to be able to identify and solve problems quickly and effectively, and
suspend professional pride or sensitivity should offenders fail to meet our
expectations.

A positive approach and respect for the client is vital. Focus with offenders is
often directed towards times when they do something wrong, but it is effective
to catch people when they are doing well. Most offenders have entrenched
feelings of low self esteem and limited expectations in their ability to succeed.

As stated above, we have often found the most effective approaches


surprising as they may not coincide with the more commonly used probation
principles. For example, we believe that a positive relationship is the key to
success. In recent years the value placed on relationships has been
marginalized as the preoccupation laid with risk assessment, accredited
programmes, being seen to be ‘tough’ and protecting the public. Whilst these
areas remain central to the work we do, we believe we are more effective in
each area if we relate in a positive way with the offenders. It is of interest to
note that a new wave of interest on a policy level is now returning to the
relationship basis of work with offenders.

Multi-Agency and Team Work

The PPO team holds weekly meetings when we discuss each case and
produce an action plan for the team. By using the skills and expertise of each
team member we constantly learn from each other and look at a variety of
alternative interventions. Indeed, we liaise with other agencies with a similar
agenda and the multi-agency approach has not merely been a token
arrangement, but a collective of agencies who meet twice every month.

Staff need to access a range of services and come together to prepare and
implement a specific plan for each individual. There is also a presumption
that PPOs will attend a nationally accredited offending behaviour programme
run by the Probation Service. However, the mode of intervention must be
needs led and not every need will be directly criminogenic. We have found
that non-criminogenic needs often provide barriers to compliance and require
attention. The requirement for a flexible approach and reliance on each
member of the team and our partners for problem solving, new ideas and
innovative practice is key.

Probation Officer
Newcastle PPO Scheme
Laura Seebohm
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Ensuring against dependence by helping individuals make genuine and


significant life changes

The ultimate aim is not only to help individuals avoid reoffending, but also help
each PPO find something positive within their lives. To achieve this we have
made links with agencies to assist in providing ‘exit strategies’. Once an
offender’s motivation has increased, greater independence can be expected
and we work towards a goal of empowerment after the initial intensity of
supervision. All PPOs are referred to the Education, Training and
Employment Service and we also have close links with partnership agencies
providing a similar services in the city, for example, Princes Trust, Progress to
Work etc. Many PPOs have attended a voluntary Service Users Group on a
weekly basis. This was formed as part of a wider agenda to provide an exit
strategy to those on the scheme, ensuring they have the opportunity to learn
the skills to cope independently once statutory supervision ends. The long
term aim is that the members will run the group themselves and provide
mutual support and mentoring to each other and offenders who have not yet
reached this level of stability.

Offenders on the PPO Scheme are frequently given a chance to function in


professional settings as service user representatives with the National
Treatment Agency, Community Empowerment Fund, Drug Action Team,
Lifeline Carers and Users Forum and sitting on interview boards to give a
service user perspective. Some PPOs have met with Home Office ministers
as well as local dignitaries such as the High Sheriff for Tyne and Wear. Two
PPOs have presented to Magistrates to provide their invaluable perspective
on prolific offending and effective rehabilitation. All these experiences help
the offenders learn a wide range of social and communication skills and has
shown to considerably increase confidence.

Last summer the PPO Team helped organise an 8-week football tournament
with the support of Government Office North East and Newcastle University,
involving service-users from all the drug agencies in the city. It is anticipated
that this tournament will be an ongoing fixture and hopefully lead to a regional
sports event for the North East. Links have been made with Northumbria
University ‘Women into Sport’ which leads to coaching qualifications for
female PPOs. It is believed that improving the health of people who have
previously misused alcohol and drugs heavily is an important rehabilitative
step.

A number of individuals on the scheme have been involved in carrying out


research into drug use in the city. Offenders have often indicated the wish to
provide support and education for other drug users as they believe their own
experiences could be invaluable. Indeed, one of the first individuals
supervised by the team is now in full time paid employment with a homeless
charity and needle exchange. Our next step is to work with the Drug
Intervention Programme to carry out an eight week training course to facilitate
the most effective route to such work.

Probation Officer
Newcastle PPO Scheme
Laura Seebohm
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The PPO Team are committed to maintaining a close involvement in activities


and opportunities available in the city which would enhance the effective
rehabilitation of the offenders. Offenders clearly enjoy and benefit from their
experiences in a variety of settings and help them believe they have the ability
to stop offending and make a valuable contribution to the local community.

Laura Seebohm
Probation Officer.
Newcastle Upon Tyne.
PPO Scheme
Nov 2005.

Laura.Seebohm@northumbria.probation.gsx.gov.uk

Snowdon, J., Walker, S. & Wright, A. (2004) What worked: A practitioner’s


perspective on a multi-agency approach to Intensive Supervision and
Monitoring (ISM). Unpublished.

Probation Officer
Newcastle PPO Scheme
Laura Seebohm