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A day in the life of a Bromley probation officer

PUBLISHED: 13:52 13 August 2014 | UPDATED: 13:52 13 August 2014

Ruth Mackie.

Ruth Mackie.

Archant

I had a list of things I planned to do today, but they all went out the window by the time I reached the office. There was a young lady standing outside with her three-year old child, crying her eyes out.

It turned out she’s the girlfriend of an offender I’m managing, and the previous night he’d been abusive to her verbally, and thrown things around. He’s already done time for violence to the public, so now I have no choice but to start the recall process to send him back to prison.

It’s one of the things I enjoy about the job – there is no typical day.

Nobody really knows what we do, unless they’ve been on probation themselves. I’ve worked in probation on and off for twenty-something years, with a couple of breaks in my career.

I did an HND (Higher National Diploma) in Drama in 1989, and I still have a copy of an article from the local paper for singing at the Palladium. It went something like: “By day Ruth works for the Probation Service, and by night she picks up the mic as lead singer for New Manhattan.”

Currently I manage up to 50 cases, my busiest days I can see up to 10 people to check they are complying with their orders, and if not I take action to ensure they do.

Every one of our cases feels they’re the only one, so it’s difficult to ensure everyone’s needs are met.

For instance a Risk Assessment on the chances someone might reoffend can be up to 64 pages long – and that’s for just one person. The paperwork and data entry can be endless for even the more straightforward cases, which are few.

Earlier today I met an ex-offender who told me that he’d learned how to build healthy relationships in future without resenting his ex-partner.

My last meeting was with a man who’s finishing his time on probation, and I discussed with him what was good, or bad – and most importantly, what he’d learned. It was all very positive, hopefully I won’t see him again.

Then I got a phone call from a woman offender shouting down the phone at me because I’d sent her a formal warning letter for non-compliance, and she disagreed with the questions I was asking her.

At times it can feel like being on a desert island surrounding by a sea full of alligators, each one more challenging and unexpected than the last!

It’s a difficult balance. You have to forge a professional bond with an offender, but also remain detached enough to enforce someone’s order because I may have to recall them to prison – it’s quite a lot of power.

As well as my “day job”, I’m also the child safeguarding lead and I’m seconded one day a week to work alongside other protection agencies at the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) in Bromley.

Earlier today an offender called me to complain about another warning letter. He has mental health problems, drug issues, a chaotic life – and now he has a new girlfriend who has a young child. I’ve just found out there is the suggestion of a possible sexual offence against a minor in his background – so more checks and consultation with Police to get to the bottom of it.

Sometimes I do feel vulnerable if I’m alone in an interview room with an offender and they’re shouting at me – although I’ve never felt I was in danger, I just remain calm.

I want to see some type of change in an offender – to see that little light go on in their heads is incredibly rewarding once they realise there’s an alternative to crime.

Switching off is something I’ve learned to do, be it through Zumba classes, running or singing. I sing to myself sometimes to de-stress – the acoustics in the kitchen here are quite good for that!

I support Millwall as my London team, and it can lead to some unusual encounters. One of my ex-offenders spotted my badge and said: “You support Millwall – so do I!”

I laughed and said: ”No-one likes us and we don’t care,” and shook his hand. I think you could say we’ve bonded.

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