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Personal stories: Snippets of a day in the life of . . .
Like most days, when Probation Officer Joanne Wood arrives at work in the morning at Crawley, she doesn’t quite know what awaits her.
She glances at her digital diary but then the phone rings and almost everything she sees under that day’s date has just been superceded by the call.
“It’s what I love most about this job, I call it ‘chaos’ – the not knowing what’s coming. No day is ever the same. There’s a lot of unforeseen work, such as someone I’m working with who is out on licence being recalled to prison or being arrested. It creates challenges but knowing that I can make a difference to someone’s life – help them to believe they can have a life away from crime – is incredibly rewarding.”
Today – a Friday – a 24-year-old woman Jo has been working with for seven years has been arrested twice in the last few days. She’s in police custody after drunkenly walking across a railway track, contacting the police and telling them she felt suicidal – the very evening she was discharged from a mental health hospital.
“I’m worried about her,” Jo says, “she’s never been to prison. I’m worried they’ll send her to prison and everything we’ve done over the years to help her will be undone. But we have to raise our assessment of her risk to the community and to herself and that means it’ll be difficult to keep her out of prison.”
The woman, known as a prolific criminal, has an emotionally unstable personality disorder and has been in and out of mental health hospitals. Jo knows that the woman seeks stability in relationships and has successfully argued in court that the woman be given a specific type of sentence that would mean her probation work would remain within Jo’s remit as she has built up a trusting relationship with her that has helped keep her out of trouble.
Jo discusses the case with her colleague, they both fear for the woman as she’s in police custody and her risk of harm levels increase when she has to deal with authority figures. Jo resolves to visit the woman at the police station. Before she leaves she reads urgent emails and makes some calls . . .
“. . . No not yesterday, it’s today they’re going to fit the tag . . . Have you heard from your mum at all? Which dad is that – the biological one? . . . I need to put a plan in place to get you out on tag – when does the university course start? . . . I’m very pleased you didn’t run away from Ford open prison . . . If he refuses to get in the car outside Highdown Prison, we’ll have to recall him . . . I’m just wondering why you didn’t keep your appointment with me given you’re on day nine of your licence. If you don’t get in touch, I’ll be forced to take enforcement action . . .”
At the police station, she’s kept waiting for half an hour before being turned away. An incident is going on. She fears it involves her service user. She leaves messages, keeps the phone close.
'I like the ones I can get my teeth into'Expand to read more
She travels to the Redhill office where she’s due to see one of her cases who has been released from prison that day on licence. He tells her he needs accommodation. If he doesn’t get any by Monday she might as well send him back to prison because if he’s out on the streets he’ll be back taking drugs.
“I like you”, she says, “you’re honest and I can work with that.” Afterwards she says: “I like the ones I can get my teeth into.”
The phone rings. It’s the police. The 24-year-old woman who was in police custody in Crawley is now in hospital under police guard. Jo calls the hospital, speaks to the police guard. The woman was having chest pains.
Jo returns to the Crawley office and discusses the case again with her colleague. She fears she has no choice but to increase the woman’s assessment of risk of harm to herself or the community. She cannot keep her out of prison. “We just can’t defend her if she’s kicking off,” she says.
A 23-year-old man has arrived in reception to see Jo. He’s been out on licence for five weeks and has been arrested for making threats to kill and for assault. She had rung him the previous day and he was angry and abusive when she insisted he come in to see her the following day. She’s surprised he’s turned up. She picks up a personal alarm from reception on the way to see him - something she hardly ever does.
“So what’s going on with you then?” she says, “Cos you don’t get arrested twice in two days for nothing. . . I worry I don’t really have a clue what’s going on with you.”
He says he’s clean, hasn’t used crack for some time. He says he’s not going through withdrawal. “You’re picking at the skin on your hands”, she says. “A classic sign of addiction.”
Jo’s phone vibrates. It’s news about her 24-year-old service user. She switches the phone off, she doesn’t want anything to distract her current case.
“Are you going to psychobabble me?” he says. “. . . I told my mum I’d been smoking crack and cocaine and she just walked away, cos she doesn’t care.”
“But there is support. I set up a meeting for you to help with your drug problem and you didn’t turn up. Sometimes it’s easier to blame others and say there’s no support. I think there’s a lot of emotional stuff for us to deal with”, she says.
Back at her desk, Jo discovers the 24-year-old woman is going to be charged with two offences. She’ll end up in custody. Her colleague goes off to ring the National Probation Service – responsible for high risk cases – to talk the case over with them.
Jo goes off to see another of her cases – an 18-year-old recently out of custody who doesn’t like to talk. She’s pleased because he’s been staying out of trouble.
“I’m going to do you a deal”, she tells him. “If you and I can agree some routeways out of offending for you to do, I’ll drop your reporting down to fortnightly.”
Back in the office, her colleague tells her the NPS has agreed to not increase the 24-year-old woman’s risk assessment to high. Jo is relieved. It means she’s likely to remain as her case worker – the one stable relationship in her life that can help her to stay out of trouble.
“It’s been another incredibly rewarding day,” she says.