Sir: I am writing on behalf of the Probation Service Christian Fellowship Executive. The Probation Service Christian Fellowship has a wide membership of both serving and retired probation staff, and possesses many years of experience within the criminal justice field. It is therefore with concern that we read of assessments of the probation service ("Probation to be scrapped for a tougher regime", 16 January), which view it as "soft" on offenders and its credibility brought into question. Over the recent years the Probation Service has adapted its work with offenders, particularly as the caseload increasingly includes high-risk individuals. Traditionally, the Probation Service has used the channel afforded by the professional relationships between probation officer and offender, as a means of examining behaviour. This is not simply to "advise, assist and befriend" in today's world, but to "confront and challenge" attitudes and behaviour that contribute towards crime. Improvements in practice can always be made, and mistakes have to be acknowledged; but the probation service is largely acutely aware of its wider responsibilities towards the victims and the wider community.
Indeed, much good practice would focus the offender on the effects of his or her behaviour on others; and if vulnerable people continue to be at risk reflect this in reports to the Courts and the Home Office.
The Probation Service within the criminal justice system is, in our consideration, a professional, cost-effective agency for the constructive supervision of offenders within the community. In addition, it brings the same social work-based skills into thefamily court welfare system, where again the focus is on the best interests of the vulnerable people in these processes, that is, the children.
Yours faithfully, Sandra Marjoram Executive Member Probation Service Christian Fellowship Mansfield Woodhouse, Nottinghamshire 23 January