Letter: Concern over the probation service

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The Independent Online
Sir: We write as a group of senior clinicians involved in the assessment and treatment of mentally disordered offenders in Inner London, Middlesex, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. Over the years we have established good working relationships with the probation service. In cases referred to us, we have found their prior knowledge of offenders, their familiarity with the offender's background and their links with other agencies involved with the offender to be invaluable.

We are regularly involved with probation officers in providing joint supervision for patients discharged from hospital care. In addition, we are involved with probation officers in the joint supervision of offenders under the terms of probation orders with a condition of psychiatric treatment.

We write to you because we are most concerned about the proposals now being advanced by the Home Office to reduce the necessary social work training for probation officers. We anticipate that this will lead to a diminution in the quality of care available through the probation service. We also anticipate that this reduced level of care will increase the risk of further offending when supervision is undertaken by less highly trained and less experienced probation officers.

It appears that there is little contact between the Home Office, from which these proposals originate, and the Department of Health, which is busily introducing a variety of programmes to reinforce the supervision available to the vulnerable mentally disordered. We therefore urge that the proposals to abolish formalised social work training for probation officers are reconsidered.

Yours faithfully,

Kevin Murray, Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist; Ian Treasaden, Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist; Chris Cordess, Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist; Paul Chesterman, Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist; Sylvia Bercu, Locum Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist

North West Thames Regional

Forensic Psychiatry Service