Sir: When I joined the Probation Service as a mature entrant in the late 1960s, one of the earlier life experiences which I took with me was that, some years previously, I had been an officer on active service with an infantry regiment, recruited mainly from the area where I was to work as a probation officer.
Unlike the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, however, it never occurred to me, then or since, that those earlier experiences in any way qualified me to understand and work with the complex, damaged and deviant people who form the larger part of a probation officer's caseload.
After 18 months of training, partly academic, and partly in the field with highly skilled and experienced supervisors, I was just about ready to start work.
I am outraged by Michael Howard's proposal that future probation officers no longer require social work training before taking the post, but can be trained "on the job". By implementing such a policy he will downgrade and demoralise a dedicated, competent and experienced service, which has for many years played a realistic and effective part in fighting crime.
Mr Howard should be reminded that until about 35 years ago probation officers were not required to undergo training. This was introduced because the job, even then, had become so complex that for the service to retain the confidence of the courts, earlier Home Secretaries had the wisdom to insist on training as a prerequisite.
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