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11th November 2015

My probation experience – on both sides of the fence

By Matthew,

I have a criminal history and have been subject to licence and Community Orders; but thanks to the help I’ve received from the probation service, I have re-evaluated my life and now volunteer with probation.

I knew I could either carry on with my cycle of involvement with the criminal justice system, or I could make some changes. I found the assistance of probation to be extremely important in my rehabilitation.

I have now enrolled at university as a criminology student, and one day hope to work in probation. I am using my time in the mentor programme to further my working knowledge of the organisation, the service users involved in the system and also improve my employability for the future.

I was asked to write this simply for my experience on what I have perceived to be the beneficial points of the volunteering to myself, and also how I think I have been most useful in assisting offender managers in their daily operations.

Since becoming a volunteer mentor I have been offered and experienced a range of work, supporting offenders on domestic abuse programmes and also working on a one-to-one basis – an area that I have particularly enjoyed.

I have seen the most positive response from offenders on the one-to-one basis, due to the more personal yet still professional relationship I have been able to establish due to the increased availability of time, and also the more individualised guidance due to my offender client number being so few.

The positive reaction that I have seen has been encouraging to me, enabling me to on occasion build limited trust with individuals. Just taking the time to sit down and listen to an individual not only about objectives or next steps but just about the day to day gripes has been massively beneficial to both myself and a number of clients.

On occasion when I deemed it suitable or necessary I have disclosed my previous involvement in the CJS. This has allowed me on some instances to gain confidence from the client due to them trusting me to know what it’s like to be in their shoes, something that has been a help in establishing some professional relationships with some difficult individuals, yet something I do not believe is necessary in most situations.

Housing, benefits, substance misuse services etc. are all areas that I have been able to assist both the CRC and its clients, and is a great example of the work load that a volunteer mentor can pick up if correctly allocated. I think that this ‘picking up’ of the smaller less mandatory objectives in the Probation-Client relationship helps both the offender manager and also the client due to the luxury of time that is available to volunteers, something that is not available to staff due to their numerous responsibilities and an ever increasing lack of resources.

The fact that a volunteer also represents a less official and more personal face of the probation service is also refreshing and can be less intimidating to service users, especially those who are new to the system or those who have little trust due to previous negative experiences.

Assisting in group sessions has also been useful. I’ve acted as an impartial assistant with those who have trouble with grasping the concept of some of the content in sessions, and I have also provided reading and writing assistance.

The maintenance and monitoring of clients out of office hours, and outside meeting times is another important and beneficial role that I think could be allocated to the volunteer mentor section of the CRC. The option for an individual to  call their peer mentor for an impartial discussion in a reasonable hour when they are in a high-risk situation could be the difference between a recall or committal of criminal act.

School and youth work could also be another positive and beneficial use of a mentor’s time and again one that would be of great use to the CRC.

I have greatly enjoyed my time with the CRC and look forward to continuing my involvement and learning experience within the organisation.

  • The author has written under a different name.