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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