Probation and After-Care Service

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th February 1972.

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Photo of Mr Arthur Jones Mr Arthur Jones , Northamptonshire South 12:00 am, 9th February 1972

I welcome the opportunity which my membership of the Sub-Committee gave to get to know much more about the probation service and the opportunities my colleagues and I had of questioning some of the representatives who came to see us and the visits we made to see members of the service acting in their jobs.

This experience left me with a firm impression of the devotion that there is for what is a difficult and demanding job, not only in terms of one's social attitude but in terms of the strain under which probation officers often work.

I was particularly impressed by our visit to the Cromwell Road training centre for entrants into the probation service. There were mainly young people, aged between 23 and 25, undergoing training. Most of them had been in other jobs and had decided to enter the service. I was aware of their keenness, and their understanding of the social purpose of the work and of the obligations placed on those who take up a career in the probation service.

When one bears in mind the increased demands that will be made on the probation service by the Criminal Justice Bill—the community service orders, the proposals for day training centres, the whole question of more intensive supervision and hostel facilities—there is clearly a necessity for a substantial expansion of the service. It is to that that I address my contribution to the debate.

At paragraph 703 of the report, in answer to a question in which I was trying to assess the justification for additional resources for the probationary service, somewhat to my surprise I received the answer: The criteria for deciding staff needs are recognised widely as highly unsatisfactory. It seemed to me at that time that there should be a much more definitive method of the assessment of needs, first, and then ways and means of assessing work load in the probationary service and trying to distill, as it were, the essentials of the work involved. Later, the report states: We do require to achieve some method of deciding what constitutes a reasonable work load to enable the probation officer to do his work properly and this is information which is simply not available at the moment. I could not help but feel some measure of criticism in that answer. I should have thought that there should be some method of determining the requirements of the probationary service in a defined way.

Members of the Committee were told that a group of the Principal Probation Officers Conference, the south-east group, were engaged on a study to this end. But the evidence went on: We would want to test them out further but we have in fact broken each operation down into a series of units which can be fitted into the working week of a probation officer. So, clearly, the inquiry and method of assessment is under way. I hope that every encouragement will be given to making an assessment of what is involved in this work.

I am sure that I speak for all of those who served on the Sub-Committee in recognising the invaluable work of the probationary service and the essential contribution which those in the service have to make to community interests not only, as they say, in respect of their clients but for the community as a whole, and the guidance they offer to those placed in their care. It is very difficult to see the rehabilitation potential, but that is part of the skill which probation officers bring to their work.

Although my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) said that it was rather sordid to think in terms of pounds, shillings and pence, that is the duty of an Expenditure Committee. However, I look for the effective use of human and financial resources in this service, and my advocacy is that we should be able to present the facts on a basis and in ways in which they would clearly speak for themselves and thereby justify increased resources for this excellent and highly deserving service.