Effective practice in supervising offenders

Whilst the role of the probation service has changed politically, the people it deals with continue to have the same problems. As such it would seem obvious that counselling skills are a necessary skill particularly within interview situations. An ability to listen empathise and encourage an individual to identify solutions to the problems they face is essential, as without recognition rigid and or dysfunctional thought patterns will prevent an individual from developing the perspective taking and consequential thinking skills which may bring about change.

Miller and Rollnick 1991 identify the usefulness of counselling skills in preparing people to change. They identify Carl Roger's client-centred therapy and the transferable skills, which could be applied such as accurate empathy, non-possessive warmth and genuineness. Whilst this work focused on addiction, they believe the same skills could be applied to offending. Counselling skills underpin pro-social approaches within motivational interviewing and the use of both are recognised methods of effective practice in supervising offenders.

Both these skills form the foundation of good communication and interviewing. Trotter 1991 sees a probation officer as having a dual role. He sees this as being a legalistic and surveillance role, also a helping, therapeutic or problem-solving role. Trotter's definition would point to positive engagement through the use of skills such as those above, and it could be argued that the combination of such skills would achieve positive outcomes for the offender whilst remaining within Home office guidelines.

In interviewing in this way confidentiality within the relationship is an important issue, though it should be made clear from the start that any risk of harm suspected or otherwise would be disclosed to the appropriate agencies and action taken. Whilst taking part in an experiential placement at Liverpool Crown Court I observed a pre-sentence report interview with a twenty nine year old woman who was shortly to be sentenced. As the offence carried a high risk of a custodial sentence the process of the interview proved very stressful for her, as she was certain she would be parted from her child and family.

On reflecting on this interview I was able to identify styles of engagement used by the interviewer such as empathy for her present situation and motivational interviewing technique's plus pro-social modelling to encourage self-empowerment. This essay will reflect further on these skills and the knowledge required to use them successfully in interviewing in order to bring about change. Trotter 1993 states pro-social modelling involves the practice of offering praise and reward for client's pro-social expressions and actions…

The probation officer becomes a positive role model acting to reinforce pro-social or none criminal behaviour. Research indicates that engaging in interviewing this way encourages higher levels of compliance with supervision and may also lower re-offending rates. In engaging in pro-social modelling it is important the interviewer identifies fully the behaviour which needs to be learned and practiced. This approach highlights the importance of respect for the individual, being punctual, reliable, courteous, friendly, open and honest.

These characteristics are of high value and may encourage individuals to begin a process of change. Trotter also suggests that effective work with offenders is characterised by clear, honest and frequent discussions about the role of the worker and the client. The worker should focus on modelling and encouraging pro-social expressions and actions by the client; and that by using a collaborative problem solving approach the clients definitions of their problems and goals are valued.

Trotter identifies pro-social modelling as one skill of engagement, which in conjunction with others will provide effective approaches to interviewing without alienating. Coulshed and Orme 1998 state Demonstrating behaviour whereby the worker models coping', he/she can be trusted and depended upon being able to tolerate frustration, set limits, keep perspective and to reason – ego strengths a client may need to borrow', that is to copy or internalise for a time.

It could therefore be viewed that pro-social modelling may be regarded as a first step to building a positive professional relationship when interviewing offenders and should continue to be consistent throughout any supervision programme. Using this and other skills and knowledge that are responsive to individual needs or circumstances the interviewer can engage whilst reinforcing the need for change. Trotter 1999 states "Approaches which blame, punish and judge clients in the hope that their behaviour will change seem doomed to failure…

Blaming and punishment, particularly were they are not accompanied by attempts to address client problems or to reinforce positives, do not work" This would reinforce the view that engaging using effective practice approaches encourages change in a positive way. Whilst on another experiential placement I observed a member of probation staff and client interview, in which the offender presented in an aggressive manner to the member of staff. They in turn diffused the situation firstly by acknowledging the offenders frustrations at the presenting situation (a possible breach for none compliance).

The worker reacted positively and with respect listening to the offender and identifying possible options open to both the offender and the worker as a way forward with the situation. As a result of using empathy, perspective taking and consequential thinking skills the worker was able to engage with the offender in what started out as a very dysfunctional interview and began a process of change in a none alienating manner to bring about a positive outcome.

This interview exampled a key principle of probation practice which is to identify responsibility for behaviour, and the possible consequences of dysfunctional actions and rigid thinking styles in a way that empowers the offender to recognise triggers and antecedents which can lead to confrontation. The positive outcome of this interview further identified skills and knowledge needed in order to engage rather than alienate, identifying perspective taking, consequential thinking, empathy, honesty and openness as well as motivational interviewing skills and pro-social modelling as crucial factors in changing any situation.

Effective practice research highlights the use of motivational interviewing and the use of tools such as Proschaska and Di Clemente's 1984 cycle of change the stages of change being seen as: Pre-contemplation, Contemplation, Determination, action, maintenance and Relapse. This was initially used in the field of addiction but as Hodge et al. 1997 points out, Not only has it been shown to work with substance abusers, but also offenders. Though adaptations will need to be made to engage the problems faced by the individual offender.

Miller and Rollnick 1991 apply motivational interviewing to the cycle of change. They identify it as a way for workers to help clients to reach a decision about change by using skills such as open-ended questions, reflective listening and summarising the information available. "It draws on strategies from client-centred counselling, cognitive therapy, systems theory and the social psychology of persuasion" Miller and Rollnick 1991. These skills and the knowledge of how to use them show the importance of a workers ability to engage and the effect it can have on an offender within an interview situation.

They identify that the workers concerns should not be with professional power, but with the needs of the offender in order to begin a process of change. Miller and Rollnicks research points to the fact that confrontation as a style does not work, however as a goal it can be effective. This view is supported by Garrett 1972 stating Social work interviews have been described as conversations with a purpose, but they are more than this.

An interview is a process which involves a combination of social psychology, where theories and information about people in their social circumstances, their motivations and their responses in interpersonal relationships can be used to help the worker understand the individual in their situation, and to gain relevant information and offer appropriate support. The benefits of engaging using skills and knowledge such as those above provide a platform from which offenders are encouraged to identify their own problems and make positive change via their probation officer.

This said there may be occasions within interviews when a more direct style is necessary in particular were entrenched dysfunctional beliefs, attitudes or values exist. Though this approach may only be possible after developing a positive relationship as a result of pre-emptive motivational work. Also caution would have to be exercised on the part of the worker so as not to abuse their position of power within such interviews. Gast and Taylor 1998 indicate that pro-social modelling is not an optional "add on" to effective supervision, but an integral part of staff behaviour, the competences of which are numerous.

Gast and Taylor state "pro-social modelling needs to be fully integrated into every unit in a similar way to anti discriminatory practice issues". The same values could be applied to motivational interviewing and other skills and technique's discussed above, however the need to train workers in such skills and the constraints made by heavy case loads on staff impinge on the ability of interviewers to engage constructively with offenders when interacting in such situations.

In conclusion there is an obvious need for probation staff to engage rather than alienate through interrogation, using skills and knowledge to provide offenders with positive role models, whilst empowering individuals to identify problem areas in their lives, and to think both perspectively and consequentially in order to bring about change.

By conducting these interviews in an empathetic, pro-social and non-judgemental manner it may be possible to remove many of the barriers, which prevent the way forward from being achieved by either the worker or the offender. The result of these measures should enable both the offender and the worker to engage in offence focused work increasing the likelihood of a reduction in recidivism and a more positive future for both the offender and society as a whole.