It was a great privilege to serve on the Sub-Committee which examined the valuable and dedicated work on the probation service. What came out of our study was how underpaid the probation officer is when compared with the local authority social worker. It is a little difficult to compare the jobs, but in general the local authority social worker tends to have to refer to a higher officer for any decision, whereas the probation officer is out there on his own dealing with pretty tough customers and has to take his own decisions.
All four level of probation officer, from probation officer to senior probation officer, have to deal with heavy case loads on their own. There is not a bureaucratic chain of command, but as it were a flattened pyramid with little promotion available. Therefore, it is essential that the salary structure should taken account of this fact and that the probation officer should not be compared with a local authority social worker of the lowest grade. The salary should be substantially higher than that when one bears in mind the promotion prospects.
The probation officer faces ever-increasing duties, in particular the need to make more and more social inquiry reports to the court. These are of the greatest importance to the court. We discovered that it took about four hours to prepare such a report, and a document put in by the Hertfordshire authority put the preparation time at six hours. It is interesting that in Holland it takes an average of 20 hours to prepare a social inquiry report. These are tremendously important documents for the court.
There is undoubtedly a need for a lower case load. Surely probation officers should be dealing with probationers rather than undertaking all sorts of other duties. Hertfordshire estimates that some 1½ hours a month is spend by a probation officer with each probationer. This is much too short a period, particularly in difficult cases which need considerable attention.
It has been said that it costs £2 a week to keep a man on probation as against £23 a week to keep a man in prison. We in Hertfordshire would be very happy indeed to forgo a prison which the Home Office is attempting to wish on us. We feel that far better results could be achieved by spending much less money on intensive probation. There is certainly a need for intensive probation to be tried out. Why not try it out in Hertfordshire?