Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice
AWARD WINNER 2019-20: Alice is a Senior Probation Practitioner for London CRC. Her nomination included an impressive range of testimonials from both colleagues and service users, and she receives an Award as an exemplar of excellence, for the outstanding commitment, enthusiasm, and discipline she brings to her work.
[This Award is supported by Novus.]
Alice is a Senior Probation Practitioner at the London Community Rehabilitation Company. Her outstanding work, often with challenging and chaotic people, is reflected in an impressive range of testimonials from colleagues and offenders alike. The dedication, enthusiasm and discipline she brings to her work is an exemplar of excellence in probation.
Alice is one of several probation winners this year whose nomination provides genuine insight into the complexities that underly excellent probation work, and is therefore worth quoting at length.
Initial nominator and Area Manager Katie Morgan outlines how “Alice deserves to be recognised for the outstanding achievements she has had, and continues to have, in her work with prolific offenders who are subject to integrated offender management (IOM). People often struggle with the seemingly relentless and inevitable ups and downs of working with IOM nominals, but not Alice!” She says:
“Regardless of how many times they re-offend, she will always see that ‘glimmer of hope’ and remains optimistic that this time will be different, doing all that she can to help them access the necessary support to ‘start over.’ It’s this notion of ‘starting over’ that drives her: she knows all too well that, for individuals who constantly come out of custody with nowhere to live and no means to support themselves, it’s all too easy for some to slip back into their old ways.”
Katie quotes the words of Brendan Ross, Peer Circles Project Manager for the St Giles Trust, who says “Alice takes above and beyond to a new level.” She then cites ‘just a few’ examples of the exceptional work Alice has done:
“Recognising that 65 year old Leslie*, who had spent a total of 30 years in custody, was highly likely to take up drugs again and re-offend if he had to resort yet again to ‘sofa-surfing’ on release from prison, Alice was determined to help him break the cycle this time. To support his housing application, she wrote a letter for him to take to his local council, which resulted in him getting immediate temporary accommodation; and later helped him complete a supported housing application. To the amazement of his family and, he says due to Alice’s support, he successfully completed his licence for the first time ever back in May of this year! What’s more, he hasn’t used Class A drugs for the last two years, has done some voluntary work with St Giles Trust and Islington Food Bank, and is determined to do more to help others.”
Butler Trust Local Champion and MTC (who run London and Thames Valley CRCs) Communications Manager, Lisa Morgan, adds some backstory:
“Knowing that Leslie had been in and out of custody since the age of 13, and having only been assigned his case a couple of weeks prior to his latest release, Alice wasted no time in learning all she could about his case, making a plan and springing into action. She simply wasn’t prepared to give up on him – or, more importantly to her, let him give up on himself. Leslie says that no-one before had talked to him, or supported him like Alice did, and this encouraged him to seek the help he needed and make the positive life changes that he has. Not even he, in his wildest dreams, believed he’d actually complete his licence and now be living in his own flat, drug-free and financially stable!”
Leslie shared his own powerful testimony:
“My life might have been so different if I’d had Alice’s support years ago. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in now. Everything’s come right. I’m motivated to think for myself, and when I’ve sorted myself out I can look after other people.”
Meanwhile, Aveen Gardiner, one of London CRC’s Deputy Directors, adds that: “Leslie’s outcome is testament to the preparation Alice did before his release. She skilfully picked up his motivation and quickly stabilised him.”
Then Katie outlines the case of John*: “Having attended hostel visits with him and securing him a place in a hostel, as well as having taken the time to support him in Court on a number of occasions, Alice successfully challenged John’s opinion that all professional agencies simply wanted to see him back in prison. As a prolific shoplifter with over 50 convictions and a long history of non-compliance with probation and other rehabilitation services, John is now making great progress. He is finally prioritising paying his rent, and recently even agreed to a voluntary meeting with the IOM police – something that he would have strongly resisted in the past!”
Katie adds that “the thank you messages that John has sent Alice (see below for just a small selection) clearly speak for themselves. It’s testament to the rapport she has built with him, that she’s managed to get him to take responsibility for seemingly small, but significant, steps (including finally going to his GP and seeing a dietician to address his deteriorating health) to improve his chances of moving away from a life of crime.”
John himself seems to have a yen for expressing his feelings in those thank you messages in rhyming couplets:
“JT is my name. Being on probation isn’t a game. But when u have a PO called AB it makes ya life so much easier bcoz without my POs help I’d be back behind bars, staring up the stars coz I failed again, bcoz I thought I knew better than my PO. Now I know my PO AB knows best. This ain’t school or an exam or test. My PO simply d best, thank you AB.”
“Alice B has done so much for me. Without your support there’s only 1 place I’d be. So this is 2 say a massive thank you AB 4 helping me. If there’s a trophy 4 d world’s best probationee, I’d nominate you 4 work you’ve committed 2 me.”
The third case study Katie shared is also touching: “Thanks to Alice encouraging the magistrate to sentence him to residential rehabilitation rather than prison, substance dependent prolific burglar Jason* is now sober and clean of drugs for the first time. Having developed a good rapport with Alice, he used his only phone call to pass on the good news to her when he passed his first drugs test back in May. And, maintaining regular contact with her, Jason says that he now recognises that he’s wasted a big part of his life and is ready to move on.”
Lisa also shared some details about Jason: “When the judge, at her recommendation, sentenced Jason to residential rehab, she even waited outside the holding cell for him, arranged a travel warrant and accompanied him to the station. Typical of her compassion for her service users, Alice hopes to visit him at his rehabilitation centre in Portsmouth at some point in the near future, with a view to hopefully encouraging him not to undo all his good work by returning to his community and re-engaging with his old associates when he has finished his treatment.”
Alice rounds out the story, which a touching update:
“I recently visited a service user in Portsmouth, who I had escorted to the train station on his release from Court 6 months ago to go into residential rehab treatment. He is now 6 months abstinent and has secured an additional 3 months funding to support him with education and his independent living skills. I will be attending his graduation in January and I couldn’t be any more proud of what he has achieved.”
In the words of colleague Tony Foy:
“If only we could clone Alice, London CRC would undoubtedly exceed all expectations in terms of service user engagement and reducing reoffending… There’s something special about Alice and the way she works with service users. She knows all hers inside out, and ‘just gets people’. Give her a ‘messy’ or challenging case, and she’s right in there doing her homework and making plans.”
Another colleague, Matt Hogan says he’s “never met anyone who goes as far to support service users.” Lisa describes Alice’s firm belief that “everyone deserves a second, third or fourth chance (or more if necessary), she frequently goes above and beyond to help them access support and interventions. She’ll: visit them at home, prison or in hospital; submit letters of support to magistrates or accompany them at Court; attend three-way hostel meetings and help them complete accommodation applications; help them apply for relevant benefits or funding, and even accompany them on shopping trips to get the essentials if necessary. Alice keeps on top of all their appointments, giving them friendly reminders to attend and bringing a number of partner agencies together if she thinks it will help.”
But as supportive as she is, says Lisa, “Alice is no walkover. She’s firm but fair when she needs to be, and doesn’t hesitate to reinforce boundaries or recall service users when necessary. And she’s proactive at sharing any re-offending concerns with her IOM partner agency colleagues.”
Many other colleagues added their testimonies to Alice. Gregory Cummins, an IOM Probation Officer at London CRC, says “It’s a pleasure to cover Alice’s caseload while she’s off as her standard of work is very high.” Priya Kaur, an IOM Coordinator in Islington calls Alice “a pleasure to have at IOM panel meetings. She presents her cases really clearly, giving agencies the information they need to be able to work effectively with service users, holding them to account where necessary.”
Anthony McCulloch, an IOM Police Officer at Camden, says “Alice is a firm advocate of partnership working. Where appropriate, I sit in on her service user meetings and regularly attend home and prison visits with her. This helps me quickly identify or de-escalate any issues about an IOM nominal who is known to my police colleagues, and she clearly appreciates any intelligence I’m able to share.”
Louisa Colohan, another IOM Police Officer, this time from Islington, adds that, “Alice recognises the importance of consistency and structure when working with IOM offenders who may have been supervised by numerous people over the years. Rather than disrupting their reporting routine, if she’s on leave she’ll arrange for me to sit in on their appointment with the PO colleague she’s asked to see them on her behalf. And all her service users know they can call me if she’s not around, and vice versa. Seeing a familiar face each time they report to probation really helps service user engagement.”
Ricardo Munoz-Bailey, Probation Officer at Highbury Corner Magistrates Court, recalls a judge’s response to Alice’s work:
“The judge said she is very pleased Peter has an excellent Probation Officer, and when I said you were ‘one of our very best’, she replied, ‘well, I shall insist all our defendants who need urgent intervention should go to her!”
Rosemarie Phillip, one of Alice’s previous managers, calls her risk assessment and management skills “second to none” while Thomas Hudson, an NPS Probation Officer at the Gripping the Offender (GtO) pilot, is “convinced that her level of involvement [in court] with these individuals prevented them being given immediate custodial sentences.” Akash Amin, a Probation Officer and former colleague, has “the deepest respect for how she managed a higher than average, complex caseload,” adding “Not only did she perform her own role exceedingly well, she also provided expert mentoring support to two PSOs at the same time – one of which had no probation experience and highly benefited from her guidance.”
Executive Director of Probation, Gabriel Amahwe summarises the benefits of Alice’s work:
“Alice is a highly skilled and effective practitioner, and an excellent example of the tremendous benefits of positive service user engagement and relationship building. She shows tremendous commitment and emotional investment to working with some of the most challenging and chaotic individuals, and an unrelenting drive to support them to make a fresh start. The fact that they engage with other services – often for the first time in their offending history – and talk about doing something more positive with their lives is testament to the respect they have for the support she gives them, and the faith she has in them.
“IOM requires skilful multi-agency working, fastidious intelligence gathering and record keeping, an unwavering commitment to engaging service users in the right rehabilitation support, and tremendous levels of resilience. And Alice has these in abundance. The outcomes she achieves and the feedback she receives speak for themselves.”
Alice herself writes: “I am not content with just doing the bare minimum. I work with people, who, no matter what they have done require the support to get them back on the right track. Some may not have support from family/friends, including emotional support and their Probation Officer could be their only source of support and as such it’s my job for them to have this. I have to make sure that everything I do is to the best of my ability. It may give me more work, but seeing service users make those small significant changes over time makes everything worth it… I believe that everyone deserves a chance to change their behaviour and my job is to help service users look at the positives and focus on their future in order to achieve this change.” She concludes by saying:
“I love helping others and I think it’s important to show them that you care about their lives and their future. I make it clear that whatever happens, I will not give up on them, even if they give up on themselves. I feel proud when individuals make small steps and progress throughout their Orders or licences and this is why I love what I do.”
* Names have been anonymised
With thanks to the National Probation Service’s London Community Rehabilitation Company, especially initial nominator and Area Manager Katie Morgan, Butler Trust Local Champion and MTC (who run London and Thames Valley CRCs) Communications Manager Lisa Morgan, Deputy Director Aveen Gardiner, probation colleagues Tony Foy, Mat Hogan, Priya Kaur, Gregory Cummins, Ricardo Munoz-Bailey, Rosemarie Phillip, Thomas Hudson, Akash Amin, IOM Police Officers Anthony McCulloch and Louisa Colohan, Executive Director of Probation Gabriel Amahwe, and Peer Circle Manager for the St Giles Trust Brendan Ross, for their contributions.