Working in Courts
The trust work with both Magistrates courts and Crown courts and write reports about the people charged with an offence. These are called Pre Sentence Reports, or PSRs. They help the Magistrates and Judges decide on the most suitable and effective sentence to give.
To write a report, they get details of the case from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and then interview the defendant about their lifestyle, home and work situation and about the alleged crime (offence). They will talk to you about your attitude to the offence and to any sentence suggested. They do this because the offender may have to agree to work hard at a suggested course, such as alcohol or drug abuse. They also provide information to the CPS on the suitability of the offender for bail.
The courts have three choices when considering bail. They can:-
- refuse bail – in which case the person is kept locked up (remanded in prison)
- agree bail without any special conditions
- or agree bail under certain conditions, such as having to stay at an approved premise (hostel).
Approved premises are a residential facility that provides an enhanced level of supervision and monitoring for individuals who present a high or very high risk of causing harm. The residency introduces a structure into their lifestyles. Northamptonshire has only 1 such hostel for up to 20 people run and it is permanently staffed. You would only be housed in a hostel if:
- The court has ordered it as a condition of bail
- It is a requirement of a community order because the court believes that you need more supervision or a settled address
- It is a condition of your release from prison.
While living in a hostel you will be closely monitored and there will usually be a curfew imposed upon you, usually from 11 pm to 7 am, and you may be required to attend group work programmes or training projects.
Working With Victims
The service has a specialised team who provide a service for victims and their families involved in serious crime. It was set up in response to the Victim’s Charter. The team gives victim’s information about the offender’s progress through the prison system. The criteria for contact with a victim is that the offender must have been given a prison sentence of over a year for a violent or sexual offence. This team would not have any direct contact with the offender.
Risk Assessments ascertain how likely the offender is to reoffend and the risk of harm the offender poses to the public. Northamptonshire Probation Trust use a risk assessment system tool called OASys. As part of the process, the offender will normally have an interview with their Offender Manager, complete a questionnaire and discuss their offending behaviour. This forms part of the sentence plan which is regularly reviewed.
The aim of risk assessment is
- protecting the public
- reducing re-offending
- the proper punishment of offenders in the community
- ensuring offenders’ awareness of the effects of crime on victims and the public
- rehabilitation of offenders
These aims go together. To achieve them, and to protect the public in particular, the trust will assess whether a person is likely to commit further offences, and what harm to victims might result if they do. They will look at the chances of you harming yourself or others. A Probation Officer or other responsible person has to carry out an assessment in every case where someone comes into contact with the Service as a result of an offence. This includes:
- specific Sentence or Pre-Sentence Reports
- bail and hostel assessments
- supervision on a community sentence
- release from custody on Home Detention Curfew (tagging) or Licence
- supervision on a Licence after a custodial release
Often the risk assessment is first made when a Report is prepared to help the court decide on sentence. It takes into account anything that suggests there is a risk of re-offending and harm being caused. A proposal in the Report will suggest how these risks can be dealt with, and what work might need to be done through a community or custodial sentence to reduce them. The Officer carrying out the assessment will pay attention to the most recent offence, and any history of crime or significant events, including who had been harmed and in what way. This is particularly important if the offending has been sexual, violent or dangerous towards other people. The Officer will also look at whether someone’s present circumstances or behaviour suggest it is more or less likely they will offend again in the light of any problems there have been in the past. Everyone interviewed is asked to say if they think they will re-offend, and what needs to be done to stop this happening, including what they will do themselves. Taken together this leads to a decision that there is a ‘Very High’; ‘High’; ‘Medium’ or ‘Low’ risk of harm. Whilst a person is in contact with the Probation Service the risks that have been identified will continually be looked at. Risks can change as circumstances change. Although the Probation Service will work with you to reduce the chances of committing further offences, and lessen the possibility that other people will be harmed, the final responsibility for achieving this is yours.
If there is thought to be a high risk of harm to members of the public the Probation Service will give more frequent reporting instructions. There may be extra conditions to supervision too. Behaviour that puts other people at risk can result in a return to court or recall to prison.
Information about a person known to the Probation Service is normally treated as confidential and not shared without agreement. However, when someone is sent to prison information is passed between the Probation Service and Prison Authorities, and there are other legal exceptions when it will help to prevent crime or injury. If there is the possibility of harm to other people, including children, information can be shared between Probation and the Health, Education, Employment and Social Services, the NSPCC, some housing providers, and the Police. Where the risk is significant this might happen at a meeting held for the purpose under Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA). In very serious cases where the risk concerns a prisoner due for release the Public Protection Unit at the Home Office may be notified. Exceptionally, the Probation Service may disclose information to other people if this is necessary to protect somebody from being seriously harmed.
The Service also has a duty to victims of crime. The victims of an offender sentenced to a year’s imprisonment or more for a sexual or violent crime are consulted about their views.
If someone is thought likely to harm themselves Probation Staff will inform prisons and/or relevant medical authorities.