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Probation Orders


What is a Probation Order?

A Probation Order is imposed by a court; it is an order that focuses on helping someone change the aspects of their behaviour that make it likely that they will get into trouble. As a result of the introduction of the Community Payback Order on 1st February 2011, only offences that were committed before that date may be considered for Probation. For more recent offences, a Community Payback Order with a Supervision Requirement will be used.

The court may also wish the Criminal Justice Social Work Service to monitor someone's behaviour, which will most often be done through joint work with other organisations, such as the Police.

A Probation Order can last from 6 months to 3 years (this is decided by the court) and may have special conditions attached to it.

What conditions apply to a Probation Order?

The standard conditions of a Probation Order are that the probationer:

- must be of good behaviour (should not commit any offences during the period of the order)
- must conform to the directions of their supervising officer, must attend all appointments with their supervising officer (which includes attending any groupwork sessions as directed).
- must inform their supervising officer at once if they change their place of residence (even if only for a short time), or their place of employment. This is important because the supervising officer needs to be able to contact the Probationer at any time.
The court can impose any additional conditions that seem necessary. Examples of these could include:

- carrying out unpaid hours of work as an additional punishment (this work is managed in the same way as Community Service Orders
- attending for specialist counselling (for example, for alcohol or drug problems)
- paying compensation to the victim of your offence
- complying with medical or psychiatric treatment
- being restricted to home for part of each day (a condition of Restriction of Liberty, managed by Serco, the company which runs such orders for the Scottish Government)

How does someone know what commitments they would be taking on by consenting to a Probation Order being imposed?

This will be discussed with the person when their Court Report is being prepared, and at that stage, the issues that are causing that person to offend will be considered. The steps that need to be taken to reduce the risk of re-offending will be recorded in the court report as the 'Supervision Plan', and this will form the basis of the Probation Order. However, the detailed assessment of what needs to be put in place will happen in the first few weeks of the order, following further discussion between the offender and their supervising Officer.

How do we help people change their behaviour?

While there are external factors that do increase the risk of someone re-offending, we believe that individuals can and should take the responsibility for changing their behaviour. We will help and support the offender in working with appropriate organisations to deal with these problems, and have good working relationships with a number of relevant organisations, for example in the field of addictions.

The way in which most offenders will be helped is through their attendance at a programme recently launched by the Scottish Government. 'Constructs: Positive Steps to Stop Offending' is a nationally accredited programme which aims to help participants reduce the likelihood of being involved in further offending by helping change the way they think and behave.

Specifically, this groupwork programme is designed to help participants:

- learn and practice new ways about how they think about and respond to problems;

- practise methods of problem-solving;
- learn and practise a number of other skills to reduce the risk of re-offending such as assertiveness, dealing with conflict and resisting peer group pressure; and 
- develop a detailed plan for avoiding offending in the future.

'Constructs' is not an easy option, although it has a high likelihood of helping people change. It requires attendance at weekly sessions over a period of six months; if participants miss a session, they are required to attend a 'catch-up' session before the next scheduled session, and all group members are expected to do 'homework' exercises.

What Probation services do we offer for the less serious offender?

Not all probationers have committed serious offences, and sometimes the court thinks that a small amount of help is required to put someone back on the right path. In such cases, we offer an intensive period of supervision for a short time, and may well be able to put them in touch with organisations dealing with particular problems. If all is going well, the person will normally move to a pattern of attending monthly reporting clinics.

How does Probation make a difference?

The approach to changing people's behaviour used by most Scottish Criminal Justice Social Work services is based on Cognitive-Behavoural Therapy. It brings techniques for changing behaviour together with a focus on thoughts, assumptions and beliefs. Workers encourage offenders to think not just about their actions (including offending) but about how and why they rationalise these to themselves and others.

It is important that the offender learns to incorporate this new style of thinking about him or herself into daily life, and carrying out homework encourages this.

Are there particular types of offence which are managed differently?

We find that sex offenders have different learning needs from other offenders, and even if a sex offender is attending for individual appointments, he will normally be seen by two workers, this being the best way to challenge his behaviour. There can be great benefits in group work for sex offenders, and at present this is offered mainly by the Community Intervention Service for Sex Offenders, which is based in Edinburgh but operates across the Lothians and Scottish Borders area.

Men convicted of offences of domestic violence are also often required to attend groups, with a specialist programme devoted to the particular problems of this client-group.

Finally, female offenders do not usually have the same set of problems as male offenders, and it accepted at a national level that work looking at behaviour should not be carried out in mixed-sex groups. We have been able to run groupwork projects for female offenders at various times; failing this, females will be seen on a one-to-one basis.

What happens if someone does not keep to the conditions of their order? 

We have a responsibility not only to the person with whom we are working, but also to the courts. If someone is not keeping to the conditions of the order, the Scottish Government instructs us that, after giving two warnings, we should take the case back to court, to let the sentencer decide what happens next. We normally make sure people know what is happening and why, and advise people in this position to see their solicitor before the Breach case is heard in court. If the Breach is 'proved' (found by the court to be correct), the court can allow the order to continue, can vary it (for example, by applying additional or different conditions), or can revoke (cancel) the order and impose any sentence, including imprisonment, that could have been originally used for the offence.



Updated: 06/03/12