Criminology, probation and stuff

Some musings on criminology with a focus on probation

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I was having a look through some of the searches which have sent traffic to my blog. I don’t intend the blog to be a place where people can come and get help with their own circumstances (I am certainly NOT qualified to give legal advice) but some of the search terms pose interesting questions and ideas:

1. What does C-NOMIS do?

NOMIS stands for National Offender Management Information System. It doesn’t do anything because it got dropped but the intention was for it to be a database of all offenders that Prisons and Probation could use. The idea was a reasonable one- especially in the context of end-to-end offender management but the government cocked it up so massively that it was dropped due to financial pressures. At the moment, there is no way an offender manager can find out where one of the offenders is without emailing/faxing the prisoner location scheme and waiting two weeks for a reply. They are working on NOMIS (I don’t know what the C was for in the first place but it seems to have gone) which is supposed to be a lite version of NOMIS. Watch this space.

2. Can a probation officer stop me from going to prison?

No, but they may influence the sentencer’s decision through a Pre-sentence Report. Concordance rates are fairly high in that sentencers often go with what the offender manager recommends but they are not bound in any way to the recommendation in a PSR. It is also worth remembering that when a judge/magistrate requests a PSR they can (but don’t always) give a sentencing indication. Something along the lines of: custody threshold, community order likely, or custody likely. This initial recommendation is likely to have a bearing on what the offender manager decides. A PSR is written on the basis of an interview with the offender (which varies in length depending on whether a standard delivery report, fast delivery report or oral report was requested) as well as information from other sources such as pre-convictions, previous behaviour on probation/in prison, family background etc. PSRs used to be called social inquiry reports.

3. What is criminology about?

Good question. At the broadest level it is the study of all things to do with crime. Some careers websites will give you an idea of what it is about but I would recommend looking at some University course pages- most of them will have some kind of syllabus to give you a flavour of what people study. If you are applying to do criminology then look at the department staff- see what work they are doing and think about whether it interests you because this is likely to influence the modules available.

4. House visits under probation

They do still exist but not by any means to the extent that they used to. Offender managers tend to do home visits only when necessary. Partly, this is a time thing but it’s also possibly a change in culture with a move away from seeing the offender in their wider socio-cultural context to concentrating more on their offending behaviour. Some might say that home life can be a very important criminogenic factor but home visits are expensive- never forget that!

5. Can i be sentenced without a pre-sentence report?

Yes but I don’t know why or how some people are sentenced without a PSR. I guess that if the offence carries a mandatory minimum sentence then there’s not much need to look into alternatives.

6. I am on probation in the US but want to [move country, can I transfer my probation?]*

I don’t think so. There is currently some work going on in the EU called the EU framework on the transfer of community penalties which is supposed to make it possible to be sentenced to a community penalty in a EU Member State and then actually serve this sentence in another Member State. Nothing has been formalized yet. See the CEP website for more details as they are heavily involved in this work.

7. Can prisoners use the internet?

No. Contrary to what many people assumed when responding to Prisoner Ben’s post on Comment is Free, prisoners do not have access to the internet. Well, not unless they manage to smuggle a 3G phone into the prison. It’s a shame really because the internet can be a good tool in terms of reconnecting with the outside world in preparation for release while being able to minimize the risk of any harm being committed.

8. ASBOs don’t work

You said it. They don’t work. And criminalizing legal behaviour is atrocious behaviour.

9. Overworked probation officers

Again, you said it! Some offender managers have caseloads of 130. Some of them will be in prison (lets say, generously, a third). Some will be on weekly reporting, some will be on fortnightly and some will be on monthly.  If officers don’t see their clients in line with minimum standards then they can get in trouble. Each contact with an offender can last anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour depending on what needs to be done. In addition to this, officers have to do PSRs (interview about 1 hours, writing the report another couple of hours), recall papers if one of their offenders commits another offence (this can take an hour or so), inductions (going through what an Order means for people new on probation), keeping in touch with other agencies who are also involved with their offenders: housing, health, the police, the list is endless. They may also have to make a visit to a prison a couple of times a month to do sentence reviews or parole interviews (prison visits take up more time partly because they may be a long way a way but also because of security etc), they have to make sure the computer system is up to date with all contacts they have and they need to keep an eye on their MAPPA or PPO offenders who need more intensive monitoring because they are the really bad ones and if they do something wrong then the shit can really hit the fan.

10. Probation punitive enough

That’s such a subjective thing that I can’t answer it (although those if you who know me probably know my subjective thoughts on the matter). Probation does place a lot of demands on an offender depending on what requirements they are given. I read something recently in this book: http://tiny.cc/ubzQW which suggested that some offenders (admittedly in the US) preferred a short prison sentence to a community order because it was over and done with. I guess it depends on what you see the purpose of probation is.

11. Doing more with less jack straw probation

Yup. That is what he seems to be planning on doing.

12. When do prisoners get probation?

They don’t, unless they get convicted of an offence while on license. When they get released early they get put on license and are supervised by an offender manager. This can involve supervision- meeting on a regular basis to discuss and overcome any issues related to their offending. They can also be told to do accredited programmes as part of their license conditions. Some prisoners will be released on MAPPA which means that they are monitored by a multi-agency panel including all relevant agencies. The point at which they get released depends on when they were sentenced (under the CJA 1991 or the CJA 2005, for example), what the sentence was and how crowded the prison system is (at the moment it is very crowded. Last week there were 84522 people in prison which is 1272 more than the same time last year!).

*I have guessed the last bit of this question

Note: the term offender manager covers both probation officers (who are qualified to degree level) and probation service officers (who aren’t).

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Written by criminologyandstuff

November 12, 2009 at 6:41 pm

Posted in criminal justice

One Response

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  1. Do state databases for inmates have any protocols for connecting to each other so as to not miss an inmate having crimes from state to state?

    Wyatt Czaja

    February 5, 2010 at 8:44 pm


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