Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice
AWARD WINNER 2014-15: Priscilla receives an Award for her work as a Probation Officer with offenders, often high-risk and high-profile, who have been charged with terrorism offences. Widely praised for her skill and professionalism by colleagues both inside probation and more widely, the head of the National Probation Service in London described Priscilla as “a shining example of excellent professional probation practice”. [This Award is supported by Interserve.]
Priscilla Samuel, as a Probation Officer for the London Probation Trust, has an unusually demanding role in what could scarcely be more difficult territory: working with some of the most serious and high profile offenders charged under the Government’s Terrorism Acts.
Originally trained in South Africa before coming to the United Kingdom 13 years ago, Priscilla has extensive experience of challenging cases including rapists and other serious violent offenders as well as those serving life sentences. Dealing with such extremists including very challenging terrorist and racially aggravated hate crime cases is undoubtedly stressful work.
There are also, of course, potentially very high risks associated with these individuals. Their cases are often high profile, and the official oversight involved needs to be meticulously detailed and rigorous. Those working in this area are on the front line, and the escalating levels of national security concerns have enhanced the already exceptionally high standards required in these cases.
That Priscilla has established a sterling reputation as perhaps the leading exponent of this work, not only within the Probation Service, but also among Counter-Terrorism police and intelligence officers in the field, says much about the quality of her work.
Further, community partners – who have an important role in supporting and maintaining de-radicalisation – also speak highly of Priscilla’s work. Colleagues praise her for her “positive and upbeat” demeanour while handling these difficult cases, some of which can, of course, rapidly change, and then lead to still further demands from her many colleagues across the multiple partners charged with this task.
Colleagues describe exactly the qualities one would hope for in someone undertaking this role: consistency, calm, excellent partnership working, an attention to detail and the capacity to forge effective relationships with ex-offenders, their families, and the communities to which they return.
Elizabeth George is Head of Communications at the London Probation Trust, whose Extremism and Hate Crime Unit handle 75% of all national Terrorism Act 2000 (TACT) cases, and deal with an average of 20 serious high profile individuals out in the community at any one time. She hails Priscilla’s “amazing ability to maintain good relationships with offenders whilst challenging their religious and ideological beliefs.”
One of her cases involves AB, a former Muslim extremist described as “an individual full of hate and very difficult to engage with.” Convicted and imprisoned for fire-bombing the publisher of a book he considered blasphemous, he came close to recall on several occasions after release.
Priscilla worked hard to keep him in the community, firmly believing in his capacity to change. For several years she worked with him alongside a mentor from the Unity Initiative, a specialist interventions consultancy tackling violent extremism.
Simon Cornwall, the Head of the Trust’s Extremism and Hate Crime Unit, believes that without her perseverance and advocacy, AB would not have changed his ways. AB is now an advocate for peace, and works with the Unity Initiative to spread the message of non-violence to others.
A Detective Constable working in the Counter Terrorism Command at the Metropolitan Police praises Priscilla’s “key role in balancing the needs of the individual against those of the probation service and the Metropolitan Police. Throughout this process,” he says, “I always found Priscilla thoroughly discreet and professional.” He goes on to praise her decision-making and mediating skills, noting that this view is widely held by his colleagues.
Sara Robinson, Deputy Director of the National Probation Service in London, rates Priscilla as “the leading practitioner of Offender Management with radicalised and dangerous individuals. Her work is consistently cited as examples of at National Offender Management Service conferences. She is held in the highest esteem by all those who work with her, both within the Probation Service and partner organisations including the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Unit.”
Priscilla is keen to share her expertise with other Probation Officers, and recognises the “growing concern not only in relation to the risk and threat that service users convicted of terrorism offences continue to present, but also about the increasing number of individuals in the community who hold extremist views.” She would like to develop her work in future to increase the number of suitable community mentors to support the work of managing offenders susceptible to violent extremism.
All in all, as Sara Robinson says, “Priscilla Samuel is a shining example of excellent professional probation practice.”
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
[Priscilla Samuel gives her account of the work for which she won her Award]
Until very recently, I worked as a Probation Officer undertaking work with dangerous offenders convicted of offences under the Terrorism Act (TACT offenders). My skills included developing excellent multi-agency partnership liaison and forming good working relationships with offenders to ensure the safe management of their risk in the community. Through persistence, consistency and self-belief, I have enabled offenders to change and positively engage with mainstream ideological beliefs.
Having worked with TACT offenders for several years, I have over time become more adept and experienced in assessing and managing their risk in the community in order to ensure public safety. In light of the high profile and complex nature of managing offenders convicted under the Terrorism Act, multi-agency involvement is core to the effective and safe management of risk that these individuals present. In many of these cases, I have worked very closely with Prisons and SO15 Police (Counter Terrorism Unit) in identifying and gathering information on cases where there are concerns around individuals displaying an extremist ideology. As a consequence of the risk that these cases continue to present and the attention they attract both from the media and the general public, the majority of the cases of this nature are managed at Mappa level 3. It is imperative that preparation and planning for these meetings are undertaken particularly around ensuring that actions from previous meetings are completed and updates provided to the Mappa which in turn have assisted in devising effective and appropriate risk management plans. Given the concern around the risk that TACT offenders are deemed to present, licence conditions are also agreed at Mappa. It is important when drawing up licence conditions, to ensure that they are proportionate to risk, there is a causal link to their index offence , support rehabilitation and also take into account religious / cultural issues. In many instances, the offenders criminal involvement is directly linked to their faith and beliefs. However in order to enable them to continue to practice their faith safely and disrupt their distorted perceptions regarding their understanding of their faith, approved Mosques are identified for their attendance in order to ensure that they are exposed to mainstream teachings and practice of Islam. In addition to the above, further actions from Mappa have included undertaking home visits to meet with the family in preparation for release of the offender into the community, the purpose being to ascertain the level of support they are able to provide, the extent to which they are considered a protective factor as well as their attitude to the offenders criminal involvement. In addition, as part of the pre-release plan, visits are undertaken to offenders in custody to review offending behaviour work completed and the impact of this in terms of risk reduction, discussion around proposed licence conditions which in many instances include accommodation initially in an Approved Premises as well as discussion around identification of suitable community mentors.
Apart from attending Mappa meetings I have also attended Professionals meetings particularly where there have been co-defendants; the purpose being to meet with Probation Officers managing the co-defendants to ensure consistency in the management of the cases. These meetings have also included discussion around formalising licence conditions as well as agreeing on the identification of suitable community mentors.
A large number of offenders convicted of terrorism offences are mostly ideologically motivated. A growing concern is the influence that they are likely to have on their families and children. Situations such as these often require close working with Children’s Services to ensure safeguarding assessments have been undertaken. The extent to which a child of a TACT or extremist related offender is vulnerable to violent extremism is often dependent on the age of the child, the relationship they share with the offender as well as the attitude and views of the family towards the offender. In many cases, where children are of a very young age it is sometimes difficult for Children’s Services to assess the child’s vulnerability to violent extremism especially if this is the only concern in relation to the child’s welfare.
Given the complex nature of many of these cases and the restrictive measures they are subject to on release into the community, the importance of the one to one relationship with the offender is critical to supporting their reintegration into the community. Supervision with the offender has also involved the delivery of the one to one intervention which is designed to address areas such as, eg. their personal identity, understanding the circumstances which contributed to their engagement with an extremist group, cause or ideology and aspects of their life which may need to change to prevent future offending, how and why they may have made certain commitments in their life, the problems of making commitments without really thinking these through and why re-examining these can help them to adapt. To further support their reintegration into the community, I have also worked closely with community mentors to provide social and religious mentoring to offenders. I have found the impact of the community mentor to be positive not only in terms of providing guidance and support to the offender but in some instances also providing support to their families which has in turn enhanced offender engagement. Despite the challenges that this category of offenders present and the demanding nature of the work involved, I have found that providing clarity of purpose, building a trusting relationship and being responsive to risk and need have enabled me to influence attitudinal change. Some of these cases have been cited as examples of good practice at National Probation conferences and workshops. The success in bringing about change in these cases is very much dependent on having a degree of cultural sensitivity and on the integrity and quality of information sharing and partnership working .
Based on my experience to date of undertaking this very specialised area of work, achieving success in managing TACT cases has not been without various challenges. Lessons have been learnt and implemented with the ultimate aim of improving service delivery to the offender and in turn ensuring public safety. For example, the decision to place an offender in an Approved Premises outside of London as it was deemed from a security point of view that his risk was too high and such a placement would provide distance between him and his former associates and limit contact. Not only did family relationships begin to breakdown due to the distance, but the relationship with the offender manager was also disrupted which in turn impacted on the overall offender engagement. On the basis of this the decision was then made to transfer the case to an Approved Premises in London on the basis of my skill and experience of managing such cases. Further challenges have been around recall decisions which in all instances have to be evidence based. As mentioned earlier, the influence of the community mentors on TACT or extremist offenders cannot be underestimated. Ensuring the appropriate match of a mentor with an offender can also be challenging as there are limited number of mentors that are approved to undertake de-radicalisation work. There is a definite need for this area of work to be expanded upon.
I also work very closely with colleagues from the Extremism and Hate Crime Unit to undertake joint visits to prison for the purpose of undertaking sentence plan meetings as well as the delivery of the NOMS Healthy Identity Intervention with a view to reducing the risk that these individuals present.
I recognise that the knowledge and experience gained through working with this specialist group of offenders needs to be shared with other Probation Officers in order to upskill them. To this effect I have co-worked some of these cases with other Probation Officers. This is with a view to helping them to develop their knowledge and skill and ultimately confidence in assuming overall management responsibility of these cases should my current role as Acting Senior Probation Officer become substantive.
I consider it a privilege to have had to the opportunity to become involved in managing TACT / extremist offenders. The trust and responsibility that accompanies the role is enormous given the impact on public safety. It has nevertheless been an extremely rewarding experience particularly in successfully managing cases to their conclusion. Critical to desistance is also the importance of ensuring that the offender manager remains a constant significant figure in the overall offender management process, developing a trusting relationship which in turn enables the offender to become more engaged with interventions. Given my vested interest in this area of work and the increasing number of such cases coming to the attention of the Criminal Justice System, there is a need for colleagues to develop and improve their knowledge, skill set and competence. I would therefore like to share some of my experiences of good practice with them through 1:1 coaching and staff briefings.