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The Probation Officer’s Toolkit

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This is @ZoeStaffsGMPT third post in an ongoing series about her life and learning as a probation officer.

I’ve noticed there’s a few new or aspiring probation officers on Twitter: all getting ready to save the world in your own unique way. You will all get access to the (pretty brilliant) probation training, which will teach you how to work with people and what makes them tick. And you’ll get the obligatoryOxford“Brick” of Criminology. But I’d like to give you an extra leg-up and share the things which I have gathered over the years, to use in my job.

This is literally the contents of what was, until I packed it away into a box, on my work shelves, and I found useful. A sort of “probation officer’s tool kit” if you will.

First of all, you will need:

Febreeze spray

This is not me having a dig or suggesting that people on probation smell bad. People are proud, they want to make a good first impression (one lad I worked with went out especially to get me cappuchino sachets and biscuits for my home visit). But sometimes people fall on hard times, end up homeless and have nowhere to go, or wash. And when they come in with the same jacket they’ve been wearing and sleeping in for the last 8 weeks, it can get a big pongy, and they can feel, quite rightly, terrible about it. But we don’t have laundrettes at probation offices (it’s notAlbert Squareyou know). So, if I feel I know someone well enough, we’ll go into a room, hang up their jacket or trainers and given them a quick spritz with Febreeze, whilst sitting down and working through their situation. When they leave, they leave fresher, a little less self-conscious, and with a subtle whiff of “clean linen”.

Shoe Shine

When someone gets a job interview; it’s a big deal. And sometimes the first one they’ve had for a while. Probation don’t have the money to kit people out in interview clothes, and sometimes they’ll have a few bits already, gathering dust – in a box marked “Hope” – in the corner of their bedsit. So if they come in and tell me they have an interview, we’ll shine up their shoes. You can make some spiritual link to Mary Magdelene washing Jesus’s feet if you like. I don’t. If anything, I link it more to the Fairy Jobmother programme I watched on telly. It’s just about looking nice, is all.

Prison slang book (by W.C. Irvine)

I purchased this book from some well known high street book store to do with Water and Stones as a bit of a joke really,  but it’s brilliant and I wish I’d had it sooner. It’s got some general explanations of the Acronym-fest that is prison (“I’ll have a C-Cat please with an HDC and a PD1 for their CRD”. Wha?) but also the proper slang that is used by prisoners. And if you don’t want to look like a bit of a numpty and waste valuable time (I once spent 30 minutes, asking a man who told me he was in a “Chapter” of the Hell’s Angels, where I could get the book…) then it’s a must.

Sandwich bags

People on probation sometimes give you things. I once had a very drunk man come in and give me a necklace that he’d “nicked for my girlfriend but she’s kicked me out so do you want it?”. I’ve had other lads sit down and all manner of things fall out of their pockets by accident. In my experience it’s normally a cannabis joint, but one of my managers said he nearly threw up into his hand (OK so he didn’t actually say that) when a GUN fell out of someone’s pocket. Anyway, my point is, sometimes you get hold of things which MAY require passing over to our police colleagues. And rather than have to explain why there’s a massive joint nestling inbetween the pens and pencils of my desk drawer, I like to bag ‘em up nice and proper, whilst imagining I’m in CSI Manchester.

Giant dominoes, kitchen scales, marbles (and other random items)

A seriously large number of offenders cannot read. Fact. A similarly large number of offenders didn’t gel with school due to behavioural problems, or just having plain ‘ants-in-their-pants’. In my experience, chances are it’s because they’re actually kinaesthetic learners, which is a fancy way of saying they learn best by fidgeting around and touching stuff. So if you’re sitting in front of a guy who’s not listening to a WORD you’re saying, but is rocking back and forth on his chair and tearing his appointment card into incy-wincy strips – he may be a kinaesthetic learning, rather than just plain rude. Over the years, I’ve built up a selection of ‘props’ I use in sessions, just to elucidate the points I’m saying and make them more tangible. So: if I’m talking about what led up to their offence: a sort of “One Thing After Another” exercise, I’ll use some dominoes and name each one with a factor (alcohol, mum shouting at me, thinking I’m no good etc…) then show that if you take one domino out of the equation, it can quite literally stop the whole thing going down. If we’re talking about the “Benefits and Costs” of offending, I’ll use real scales, with real weights (marbles) and we’ll tot up which side comes out heavier. OK, so some people are going to look at you like you’re absolutely nuts – but let’s be honest – they do anyway. I’d rather they think I’m nuts for bringing a bag of dominoes into the room, instead of the reason most other people think I’m nuts; which is that I believe people who offend are worth the respect, time and money for giant wooden dominoes in the first place.

Over and Out



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