News story

Probation officer makes a difference

What are the challenges of working with offenders? We look at a typical working day for newly-qualified probation officer Sian Sadler.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

It’s 10am on a winter’s day. A young man is slumped in his seat, aware his life is spiralling out of control. His girlfriend has left him; he’s racked up a criminal conviction for smashing up her property and fears he may lose access to his child. He can’t sleep and gets through a crate of beer a day. The man is the first of three offenders being seen that morning by newly-qualified probation officer Sian Sadler.

The offender is open about his situation, explaining his priority is to get off the booze and get a job. Since moving from another area, he’s stopped receiving treatment for his addiction - a factor in his last three offences. Sian listens patiently, encouraging the man to come up with solutions to his problems. She agrees to help him get support from a drug and alcohol treatment charity and advises him to contact his solicitor about access to his child. She also offers to arrange an assessment with an employment specialist when they meet next week.

The offender is one of more than 30 on Sian’s books. Others include offenders about to be released from prison on probation licence, those being released from young offender institutions, as well as offenders sentenced to community sentences.

‘I knew I wanted to work with vulnerable people,’ Sian says. ‘I saw an advert for probation and thought “that sounds good”.’

She is one of about 45 staff based at Warkworth Lodge, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Probation Trust’s main office in Cambridge. On average, the office gets between 60 and 70 visitors a day, most of whom are offenders.

Drug and alcohol addiction are a common problem Sian comes across. All the offenders Sian is seeing that day seem to be struggling with some kind of substance dependency. 

The second offender she sees is a middle-aged man convicted of alcohol-related domestic violence. Sian talks to him about joining the Probation Service’s Integrated Domestic Abuse Programme. An hour later, a third offender turns up for his induction appointment. As part of his sentence for possession of drugs, the man has received a community order with supervision. For the first 16 weeks of his sentence, the he will have to attend weekly probation appointments with Sian.

Breaking the cycle of reoffending isn’t easy but Sian believes that, given the right help and motivation, even the most hardened criminals can turn their lives around.

She says: ‘I believe that people can change and I want to be part of that. I think the work probation officers do is important, not just in rehabilitating offenders, but also in terms of protecting the public from becoming victims in the future. It’s nice to know your job is making a difference.’

Published 11 January 2011