I'm sorry if it seems like this blog is turning into the electronic version of the tv or radio times, but there just seems to be so much being broadcast about criminal justice at the moment. Maybe it's always been like this and I just hadn't noticed, but now I have blank blog pages to fill.
'Coppers' is a Channel 4 documentary series following various branches within the police as they go about their daily work. I never caught any of series one broadcast in 2010 and the new series started on Monday this week, featuring CID based in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire. The subject matter is of interest to probation officers because of course those being dealt with will almost certainly come our way at some point. Watching this first programme just served to remind me once again for the need of something similar, following our work with offenders, but maybe the tv people just don't think it's exciting enough.
First off, I have to say it's reassuring to see that the officers based in Mansfield appear so 'normal' to me. So professional, so human and well, like us in many respects. I knew that before of course, but we have different jobs to do and of necessity we view the clientele somewhat differently. Once again I recognised all the characters and try as I might I found it hard not to be either mentally writing their PSR's, pondering a supervision plan or just seeking an explanation. At the same time, ringing in my ears, was a particularly irritating political soundbite I've heard recently along the lines of 'we should try and understand less and condemn more.' Errr no, and tv programmes like this highlight for me the stupidity of such sentiments.
The young, cocky, suspected burglar who feels that the police are 'stupid' and villains much smarter will be all too familiar to most PO's. Such distorted thinking is sadly so very typical. Having failed miserably at school, probably the product of unstable parenting and negative role models, he will almost certainly be involved in either heavy drinking or drug usage. The look of those eyes and the profuse sweating during interview looked very familiar to me. The future for him, and sadly the community that he resides within and is no doubt pestered by him, is quite bleak. Currently unemployable, one can only hope that either the passage of time and maturing process, coupled with a rather more sensible girlfriend, may in the end effect some positive change.
Of course probation will do it's best. He'll no doubt find himself on a Thinking Skills Programme at some point. A referral to a drug project and a spell of Unpaid Work, but when he either fails or breaches it will be ever-lengthening spells in custody, which he made plain were no great hardship at all. What he and his ilk need is something radical. Do you remember that tv series a few years back called 'Bad Lads Army?' A brilliant example of how the combination of external interest, structure and discipline can change someon'e life for the better. A period away from your normal environment, a broadening of horizons and the chance to have some responsibility. All quite well-known techniques behind organisations like Scouts, Youth Clubs, Sail Training Association, Intermediate Treatment and Prince's Trust, but as a society generally we seem to have forgotten the lessons and no longer have the range of opportunities we once did.
At the other end of the spectrum, and the first episode of this new series of 'Coppers', was the learning-disabled sex offender. We don't know all the details, but it seems he was being accommodated in a hostel of some kind and was the subject of certain restrictions in terms of movement. Basically an ill-judged decision to allow him out into the community unescorted now means that he has been sentenced to indefinite detention in prison (no doubt IPP) with a judges recommendation that he never be released.
I find this absolutely shocking, but highlights the plight of this very difficult group of offenders. Not bad, or mad in terms of being appropriate for detention in Special Hospital, this sad man will now be inappropriately the responsibility of HM Prison Service with little chance of release. Due to his learning disability he will be deemed unsuitable for sex offender groupwork programmes within prison and his future is even more bleak than the young suspect burglar. I always find these cases very upsetting and his probation officer will find that their scope to assist is sadly severely restricted. Without doubt, the learning-disabled remain very much misunderstood by the Criminal Justice system and get a very raw deal as a result.