Breaking the circle

For those in criminal justice, working with persistent offenders
is a priority. It can be argued, particularly for non-violent
offenders, that efforts made to reduce the risks of reoffending are
best spent in the community. It was from this standpoint that
social worker Pamela Connor (pictured, left) began, in April 2001,
working with Robert Gray – a young man with a history of
non-violent offences that had been committed to fund his drug use.
Connor’s first task was to prepare, for the court, the social
enquiry report that assesses the potential for reoffending.

Gray was sentenced to 18 months’ probation. However, following a
recent relapse, his heroin use had made him drug-dependent again.
He renewed his acquaintance with the old ways. He was, in the space
of two days, charged twice with shoplifting – breaching his
probation. This required Connor to submit breach reports to the
court. “Given the situation, it was unusual,” she says, “to be
recommending no further action and saying probation is the right
way forward.” But she was clear: “He’s a non-violent drug-user
whose needs are not going to be addressed in prison.” The court

Connor was also swayed by Gray’s honesty in owning up to the
breaches. “He felt comfortable enough to come in and tell us,” she
says. “We say to people: ‘If you are charged with another offence,
come in, speak to us, we’ll look at what’s happened and try and
work through it’. That message obviously got across.”

Connor set about targeting factors linked to offending behaviour –
including drug use, family problems, housing and employment. “I
made a referral to an addiction liaison nurse,” she says. “Within
four weeks he had been assessed as suitable for methadone, had the
motivation to enter treatment, and we identified a local GP to
start the treatment.” Connor concedes that this “was pretty quick”.
It can take a lot longer, during which time a lot of motivation can
be lost.

“I was also getting Gray to fill in a drug diary,” Connor
continues. “He wasn’t going to get the equivalent of what he was
using in street heroin. So, I wanted to see that while his
methadone was increasing, he was decreasing his heroin use.” From
the start of the methadone treatment Gray claimed he was no longer
involved in offending behaviour. The small amount of heroin that he
was using, he said, was funded through his benefits.

Gray had been living with his father. Theirs had been a turbulent
relationship from early on. As both boy and adult Gray had felt
undermined by his father. He needed his own place. “He was made an
offer in a hard-to-let area,” says Connor. “Although the area has a
high level of drug use, it was close to his father’s house. Despite
their relationship he was still a source of support. The offer was
made within a week – which again was pretty quick. He agreed to
take it.”

Connor continues: “It’s not very often the Benefits Agency gets
praise, but they gave him enough of a grant to furnish and decorate
his flat to a level where he was able to say ‘Yeah, I’m OK with
this’ rather than try to live somewhere where he wouldn’t be
happy.” This sense of ownership meant that Gray could say, “This
flat, it’s mine, not somewhere where I’m just staying today – but

Undoubtedly, a degree of good fortune with the speed of services
helped Gray’s situation. “But, importantly,” observes Connor, “he
was motivated to change.” As more stability entered Gray’s life so
the reduction in risk of reoffending decreased – a score of 31 on
his initial assessment, using the risk and needs assessment
framework Level of Service Inventory – Revised, had reduced in time
to 19 and then 11. Gray’s family relationships had also improved.
“His dad was happy that he was doing well,” says Connor. “He had
stayed at his dad’s while his flat was being decorated and he
helped with that.” Gray has a partner now – “which is a positive
step for him” – and is back in employment.

Such is his improvement that social work contact is now only
monthly. “But I’ve told him,” says Connor, “that if you want to
talk, or feel you’re struggling, and need to see me, then that’s
OK.” The hugely positive impact on Gray’s confidence and
self-esteem is marked. “He feels more comfortable being drug-free.
And his dad telling him, in front of me, that he’s proud of him –
that was really big for him. He’s feeling pretty chuffed with how
life is going.”

Case notes

All names of users have been changed.

Practitioner: Pamela Connor

Field: Criminal justice social work

Location: South Lanarkshire, Scotland

Client: Robert Gray, a 25-year-old white male with a history of
drug-related offending behaviour, including around 15 previous

Case history: Gray is a non-violent persistent offender. His
offences have been committed in direct relation to his drug use. In
June 2001, after being convicted of several dishonesty offences he
was placed on an 18-month probation order with standard conditions
– which require the probationer to be display good behaviour,
conform to the directions of the supervising officer and advise the
supervising officer if there are changes in employment or place of
residence. Also during the initial probation period, Gray was twice
convicted of further similar dishonesty offences, thus breaching
the terms of his probation. Connor, convinced that remaining in the
community was Gray’s best chance of success, prepared two
breach reports for the courts, recommending no further action and a
continuation of the probation order. The courts agreed.

Dilemma: Pressure existed about the way forward – why recommend
a continuation of probation order when Gray had failed to comply
with community-based disposal?

Risk factor: A custodial sentence could damage Gray’s need
to be socially included to minimise risks of reoffending.

Outcome: Gray’s social and mental health have gradually
and consistently improved, bringing much-needed order to his

Arguments for risk

  • As a non-violent drug-user, Gray’s needs might not be best
    addressed in prison. Work with his offending behaviour needed to be
    done in the community. He had previous experience of residential
    rehabilitation, and chances are that this would be merely
    replicated in prison. He would come out – possibly drug-free – but
    be unable to sustain a drug-free life. He would need regular
    treatment to achieve and sustain stability.
  • There would be no guarantee that he would leave prison
    drug-free – as drug availability could even draw him into a wider
    criminal fraternity.
  • “Prison would not be an environment to promote pro-social
    modelling,” Connor argues with a smile. Indeed, he might become
    involved with others who could lead him into a world of violent
  • The chief inspector of prisons, Anne Owers, suggests that
    people in employment have a 50 per cent lower chance of
    reoffending. However, with a custodial sentence Gray’s future
    employability would be severely restricted.

Arguments against risk

  • The June 2001 probationary sentence was Gray’s second such
    sentence. The first occurred when he was a young adult and was
    again related to dishonesty offences in attempts to fund his
    illicit drug use. In this case, too, he breached the conditions of
    this probation. There was no evidence that he would change. His
    behaviour simply showed that he could not be trusted to conform to
    a community-based disposal.
  • Gray’s history also showed that programmed work towards
    rehabilitation had failed. His drug use, the main impetus for his
    offending, had been recently treated, but within a couple of months
    he had relapsed and succumbed to heroin dependency again. Neither
    was heroin his only drug of choice.
  • Gray’s repeated offending and relapse point toward a lack of
    motivation. At the time of his probation breaches he had no
    permanent, settled address, he was unemployed and single, and had
    no social network to underpin work with him. It was socially
    inevitable that he would fail.

Independent comment

This is a good example of a social worker using a structured
assessment instrument not only to measure the risk that Gray would
be reconvicted and thus inform the preparation of the social
enquiry report, but also to identify the dynamic risk factors, or
criminogenic needs, that required addressing to reduce the risk,
writes Peter Davies.

A problem in working with offenders such as Gray, whose
offending is related to drug dependence, is that the use of drugs
affects the individual’s ability to function in key
criminogenic areas such as education, work, family and
interpersonal relationships. It can exacerbate existing problems or
create new ones. In the case of Gray, the social worker was able to
address the drug use at an early stage, which meant motivation was
not lost, and she could then work with Gray on family, employment
and housing.

The Level of Service Inventory – Revised was used by the social
worker as part of the initial assessment process, and retests were
carried out periodically during supervision. During that period
Gray scored 31, then 19 and finally 11. The maximum score on the
LSI-R is 54. A score of 31 is categorised as high risk, 19 as
moderate risk and 11 as very nearly low risk. Home Office Research
Study 211 reported that changes in LSI-R scores are associated with
changes in risk in the expected direction. In Gray’s case the
social worker could be confident he was at low risk of reoffending
and was right to reduce contact levels.

Peter Davies is managing director of training
organisation the Cognitive Centre.

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