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A day in the life of a Romford probation officer

07:00 04 August 2014

Probatiom services officer Stephanie Gibbons

Probatiom services officer Stephanie Gibbons

Archant

Probation officer, Stephanie Gibbons, tells the Recorder about helping to reform those convicted of domestic violence, sexual offences and other crimes. She has worked for the Probation Service since 2005 and is based in Romford

Working with domestic violence offenders when you’re a woman can actually be an advantage.

There’s no place for banter or collusion, which the offenders might think they could get away with if they were supervised by a man.

What I do in probation supervision meetings is try to unpick some of these men’s attitudes to women.

I have to tread carefully, otherwise there’s the risk I could get their hackles up.

More often than not it’s something in their past that has made them think they can behave that way, or their need for control has created anger management problems. In other cases, it is pure misogyny.

I guess with the World Cup now over we’ll see a spike in domestic abuse cases coming through the system.

There were almost 1,500 domestic crimes in the borough last year – 200 more than the previous year.

Whether that’s because more are happening or more are being reported, it’s hard to tell.

Particularly because on average 33 incidents of domestic violence will happen before police are first called to an address.

I was working with one offender who would tell me: “I hate women. I don’t like women. I can’t relate to women.”

I would just patiently say to him, but I’m a woman, and you’re managing to relate to me.

Picking away at their attitudes and developing discrepancies in their arguments often leads to a breakthrough.

I don’t only work with domestic abusers. I also assist people convicted of driving offences, sex crimes and those with drug or alcohol problems.

It’s important to remain objective in this job. Sometimes I read a case file and think to myself, Oh no, this one’s going to be a nightmare.

Mistakes

Then you get to the interview room and you’re presented with a human being, admittedly one who’s committed an offence – sometimes not very pleasant, but they’re still a human being.

There’s a reason why they are sitting there, and my job is to help them to understand and acknowledge why they did what they did, so the chance they will do it again is minimised.

I recently had a case involving a man convicted of internet sex crimes.

His denial and self-loathing was hard to get around, he felt stigmatised, didn’t trust me and was convinced I was out to get him.

I wasn’t – but nor was I his friend, nor was it my role to do everything for him.

My role was to help him make the changes necessary so he doesn’t make the same mistakes again.

Supervising people with drug and alcohol problems is a real challenge, sometimes they will fall off the wagon, sometimes not.

If I can plant something in their minds, something might click the next time around.

I have one ex-offender who was the most terrible alcoholic, but he’s been sober for three months now. When I test him and it’s negative, I always tell him, Well done and he responds – almost timidly, “Thank you.”

People with addiction problems need constant reassurance that when they’re doing well, they are worthy of praise.

Their addictions have badly damaged their self-belief and I use praise as a motivational tool to keep them on track to a drink or drug-free lifestyle.

It’s a stressful and challenging job, but it’s not hard for me to wind down at the end of the day. I have a baby daughter and when I get home it’s all about her.

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