Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice
AWARD WINNER 2019-20: Sarah is granted an Award for her outstanding contribution to probation in London over more than three decades. Her nomination, supported by service users and colleagues, highlights her compassion, and her “exceptional” ability to engage those with especially complex needs.
[This Award is supported by Serco Justice Services.]
Initial nominator and London CRC’s Deputy Director Custody, Contracts, Interventions & Partnerships, Aveen Gardiner, notes that many service users take the time to thank Sarah and says, remarkably, that “some even going as far as to say how much they’re going to ‘miss probation’, something that’s rarely heard in this sector!”
Aveen praises Sarah’s “astute understanding of human psychology” and “enviable ability to connect with service users with complex mental health profiles,” adding that “Sarah’s passion for her work and desire to help service users make positive life changes is unwavering and second to none” – as is her gift for “finding ways of engaging some of the most challenging service users and helping them to turn their lives around.”
Butler Trust Local Champion and MTC Group (the company who run London CRC and others) Communications Manager, Lisa Morgan, says “the sheer volume of thank you notes she has received over this time speak for themselves! Sarah has an extraordinary ability to ‘read’ people and find ‘a way in’, regardless of how reluctant they may initially be to engaging with their probation order. She has therefore frequently been the ‘go to’ person when colleagues are working with particularly challenging service users and need some advice and support.”
Lisa also notes Sarah’s “seemingly innate ability to engage with individuals who have mental health issues that have contributed to their offending behaviours, encouraging and helping them to access the support they need,” adding that “everyone who meets her says ‘there’s no-one quite like Sarah.’” Lisa gives an example from a recent HMPPS inspection when an inspector remarked how Sarah was ‘the most positive Probation Officer’ she’d ever met. No matter what challenges she faces, Sarah is always extremely upbeat and solution focused, approaching each new case with the same degree of enthusiasm and positivity, determined to do all she can to help even the most demanding service users to transform their lives.” Lisa concludes:
“She is exceptional at finding ways to engage service users, even those who exhibit particularly challenging behaviours or who are resistant to complying with their Orders. Her risk assessment skills are excellent, and she shares any individual concerns with service users in a transparent and firm but fair way. Judging on the outstanding compliance rates she’s achieved and the number of thank you messages Sarah has had from service users over the last 32 years, this approach clearly works.”
Colleagues concur. Clevette Coleman, Probation Services Officer, says:
“Sarah is a really great sounding board and has given me the most amazing advice on how best to work with service users who are not engaging. I often find myself thinking ‘what would Sarah do in this situation?’”
A number of service users added their own testimonials. Jason* said probation “literally changed my life beyond recognition and this email is the only way that I could think of to thank you all and let you know how very grateful I am.” John*, meanwhile, writes that “All the times I have had a Probation Officer, no-one has ever given me the support that you have: you emailed my doctors, rang the electric people, rang mental health and actually got me a meeting with Barnet welfare services to help sort my money out. If it were someone else, I probably want my probation to hurry and be over with, but I looked forward to seeing you. I’m so grateful for everything you have done and am really going to miss you.”
Another service user, Jude*, says, “I am happy that I have finished my Probation period but I am not happy that I won’t be supported by you. You are not my stereotypical PO. Usually the officers I’ve had in the past I’ve thought that they just wanted me back in prison. You are in a whole different league to them and I just want to say that thanks to your guidance I feel that I am rehabilitated and I feel that I can live a life without crime.”
The nomination also included this powerful testimony from service user Kelly*:
“Sarah, if it wasn’t for you, I don’t think I would be here right now – you literally saved me from doing the most selfish thing I could of ever done to my family. You was the first person I opened up to about everything – how low I was feeling, what I wanted to do to myself, being addicted to proscribed drugs. You listened to me, you gave me the best advice, you didn’t judge me because of my past, you helped me get through it. And these days I’m smiling, I’m actually leaving my house, holding my head up. I got another job. I have got help with my prescription drugs. You have the kindest, most understanding heart ever and I’m so happy I got probation (sort of) – with you anyway! From the bottom of my heart, I thank you so much for helping me get my life back.”
London CRC’s Executive Director of Probation Gabriel Amahwe notes that “Sarah’s focus at all times is firmly on encouraging and supporting individuals to access the services and interventions they need to help them move away from a life of re-offending. She has a seemingly innate ability to understand what approach will work best with different individuals to get them to engage with probation and take responsibility for making positive changes in their lives. Such is the rapport that she builds with them, and the firm but fair approach that she takes, that Sarah frequently maintains service users’ engagement even when she has to ‘bring them into line.’”
Sarah herself is clearly enormously enthusiastic about her work: “I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to be employed in one of the best jobs in the world! Challenging, rewarding and humbling at the same time.” The ethos she brings to her work shines through in her own words, too:
“In my view absolutely every one of us has worth and potential – some people are more fortunate and experience difficulties which shape their lives and lead to an offending lifestyle. I honestly believe that the basic humanistic values of care, compassion, support and trust are what we need to demonstrate in our role… I am still extremely passionate about offender engagement – it has to start with empathy, trust, kindness and sensitivity. This is the foundation on which we can build the service user journey adding a variety of interventions, programmes and projects. The relationship is the key which turns the lock for change.”
* Names have been anonymised.
With thanks to London CRC, initial nominator and Deputy Director Custody, Contracts, Interventions & Partnerships Aveen Gardiner, Butler Trust Local Champion and MTC (who run London CRC) Communications Manager Lisa Morgan, numerous offenders and colleagues who provided testimonials, and to Executive Director of Probation Gabriel Amahwe, for their contributions.