Conducting interviews with offenders

Referring to the principles of effective practice I will discuss the impact of engaging offenders rather than alienating them whilst using methods of interrogation and examples of how engagement can change what may appear to be a rigid situation. This essay will use examples from experiential placements and observations carried out by the author.

It will evaluate the effectiveness of communication skills within such settings and the importance of the individual probation officers style in engaging; also how powerful this can be in motivating the offender to change. By providing an awareness of the potential difficulties that may exist and the possible consequences of such difficulties, this essay will aim to example the skills and knowledge required in order to conduct positive interviews with offenders.

Historically the Probation Service has experienced many changes in methods and approaches to offenders; in particular over the period from the 1970s individuals such as Martinson believed there was not enough evidence to say that any rehabilitative interventions worked as such over a period of time many came to the conclusion that "nothing works" (Burke 2002) this left many probation staff viewing the future of offenders negatively.

Fortunately for all concerned the challenges and changes which occurred in the 1980s provided evidence that "some things work" this in turn has led to the use of evidence based practice and the what works initiative (the drive that aims to ensure that all probation practice is base on evidence of success) Home Office 2000. In identifying engaging, rather than alienating within the probation environment we should discuss and be aware of the qualities and values we hold both as individuals and as probation officers, also what motivates us to engage with offenders whilst conducting interviews.

We should be aware of the skills and knowledge we bring to the interview that will shape the way the offender will behave toward us as investigators. Spencer 1995 wrote about probation values for the 1990s his view identified that practice should be informed by concern for the individual, rehabilitation, reformation, hope, care and belief that people have the capacity for change and growth.

Reflecting on these views allows us to identify that belief in peoples capacity to change will empower interviewers with better skills and knowledge, without which interviews may become alienating experiences not just for the offender but also the interviewer, who may fail to engage in a professional manner. An interviewer wanting to engage rather than alienate, will use empathy and respect for the offender and their issues, whilst engaging them in offence focused work in order to reduce the risk of re-offending.

Interviews conducted in this manner should assist offenders with problems they face whilst adhering to the duty of protecting the public as required by The Home Office " Communities and victims depend on probation staff to do their jobs well" (Blunkett 2001). In identifying the skills and knowledge required to engage constructively in interviews, interviewers must have a belief in the value of people as individuals, recognising that the problems they have influence their actions and that in order to communicate with them, you must identify the stresses they have.

This may then engender a level of trust, which will enable both you as an interviewer and the offender as a person to begin a process of change. Biestek 1961 identified a set of values, which provide a definition of how social workers should behave towards their clients some of which are, individualisation, the purposeful expression of feeling, controlled emotional involvement, acceptance, a non-judgemental attitude, client self determination and confidentiality.

Whilst probation is distancing itself from its former social work roots with its focus being more on punishment and reinforcement, it remains a fact that we are dealing with people, and for individuals to interact in open and honest ways within interviews with probation officers, values such as those put forward by Biestek should under-pin the development of skills and knowledge used within interviews in order to engage without alienating.

Since its establishment at the turn of the twentieth century the Probation Service had traditionally advised assisted and befriended the offenders it supervised, however as a result of changes made in the 1991 Criminal Justice Act, its role has been changed to one were it is obliged to carry out punishment within the community, in the form of community sentences. This change in practice may force a dichotomy of choice in probation officers when interviewing offenders.

As paid agents of the state they are obliged to interrogate, whilst at the same time without realistic engagement change will not take place. Williams 1996 stated this raises complex ethical dilemmas for practitioners who may feel their values as social workers are coming under political attack. Whilst engaging in experiential placements, and upon asking a range of probation officers their opinions of such dilemmas, many who had trained as social workers felt they were being discouraged from applying social work principles such as counselling with offenders.