Skills Needed by Practitioners in the Probation Service to Work with Offenders who present a high risk of harm

Probation may be defined as a service unit that deals with the carrying out of punishments that may be efficient and cost-effective, cheap and non-custodial for a criminal offender.  The crimes committed by these offenders however may not fit for the required imposition of custodial options that are more expensive and of higher level.  Probation can also be viewed as a sentencing disposition in which it mostly deals with offenders who are specifically selected and the costs that apply to suspension when the offender is under close individual monitoring while being given individual guidance (Vanstone, 2004 p. 32-35).  Due to the limited rights issued to offenders available in the probation service, it is able to acquire a high status. It is also a system which may be public or private that plays the role of administering certain services that should be delivered hence considering as a subsystem of the wider criminal system. Probation also incorporates quite a number of operational activities that includes supervisory services as well as investigatory services. Therefore, probation deals with socio-pedagogic position which consists of assistance and supervision services which also applies a ‘no free’ system to criminal offenders who have been identified according to their personality as regards crime, form of crime as well as their receptiveness.

This is in relation to a specific system which should be able to provide the criminal offender a second chance of changing the way they perceive life in the society and also enable them to occupy a position of posing any risk of violating the existing accepted social norms of the society (Mair, 2004 p. 57-64). As a custodian of alternative measure, probation should spell out clearly defined regulation rules and acts, the right criteria that will be applied in the identification of individuals to be placed under probation based on the nature of the crime committed, their age and other exclusionary criteria that include responsibilities and concomitant rights of the probationer.

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The probation officers or practitioners on the other hand have mainly been associated with the responsibility of reforming, remolding, restructuring and remaking the offenders’ lives so that they can become honest, law-abiding and good citizens. This process of transforming offenders takes place under various programs, rules and regulations that are available at various probation service centers available in different countries. All these aimed at benefiting both the criminal offenders and the society at large and it is also aimed at reducing the number of crimes that are often committed in these communities. Therefore, these probation practitioners play the vital role of bringing peace and harmony in the community as well as to the lives of the criminal offenders hence leading to a stable and peaceful working and living environment among the people of a country (Winstone & Pokes, 2005 p. 19-24).

The main role that probation plays is the reduction of the effect of crime and incidences that are committed in the community by probationers.  It also offers service such as investigations and reports to the court, development of the appropriate dispositions for the court that deals with adult offenders as well as juvenile delinquents and the supervision of the people under probation.


The department of probation also offers a wide range of services that is not limited but involves prevention of delinquency as well as crime.  Internal programs that are voluntary and programs for victim restitution.

The probation service in addition has a mission that aims at protecting the interest of the public and safety through the reduction of crime and incidences by probationers.  This is mainly achieved through assistance in decision making made by courts by offering a probation report as well as reinforcing orders made by the court.  This is also done through the provision of essential services that will be able to transform the criminal offenders into law-abiding citizens, cooperating and establishing activities and programs that will help in the prevention of delinquency and crime and lastly enhancement of individualized and fair justice by the administration as regards the criminal offenders.


There are various beliefs upon which probation is premised upon.  The first belief is that society has got all the rights to be protected against any harm that may be caused and it does not matter whatever the causes for such harm.  Every citizen according to this belief has the right to be out of fear of harm that may be committed against them or their property hence this belief calls for the necessitation of law and order and this calls for the commitment in supporting this responsibility.  It is the probation facility that accepts to handle this responsibility in that it regards itself as a tool that necessitates the treatment and control to a portion of criminal offenders.  The stability and strength of its efforts is however derived from the law.

The other belief is that the offenders deserve the right of protection and this applies freedom and democracy that enables the individualized and fair law processing as regards the sentencing and adjudication of offenders.  The victims of crime have also get the right to be protected.  Probation in its humanitarian tradition advances that it is the criminal justice system that is solely faced with the responsibilities of persecuting the offenders.  In case of the occurrence of a crime, the victims may encounter emotional problems and property loss.  Hence, it is the probation that is faced with the responsibility of advocating for the interests and needs of these victims who have been faced with crime.

Another belief is that human beings can change.  It is the belief that human beings are capable of change that mostly make the probation practitioners to be fully committed integrating of the criminal offenders into wider society so that they can be able to  lead their lives according to the acceptable norms.  The acceptance and recognition of the principle of personal responsibility forms the basis for the change of behaviour that is constructive.  This is done by offering probation services which focus on the identification and availing programs and services that will provide an opportunity for the offenders to become law-abiding and responsible citizens.

The other belief is that the ability and willingness to benefit from the alternative programs or measures that are designed to lead to law-abiding citizens vary from one individual to another and this is recognized by probation officers or practitioners.  The individual experience and history are the means that are used to access the present offense as well as the degree of risk that is posed to the community including the potential level of change that an individual displays.  In order to protect society and promote behaviours abiding by the law, the intervention that is conducted into the life of an individual should be at the minimum which means that it should be upto the level which is necessary.  The criminal justice system should however be terminated in cases whereby the intervention is appears to be unwarranted.  In cases whereby the intervention is directed to a separate agency which could be outside the system, this then requires that the offender should be directed to that other agency.

In addition the law philosophy concerning probation does not approve of the ideology of retributive punishment.  This is because the corrective measure of punishment is used and supported  only in  those instances whereby it is felt that the aversive measures could possible cater the behaviour of the offenders positively whereas other measures may not do so.  However, these corrective punishments need to be applied judiciously and   cautiously because of its unpredictable behaviour that is highly dynamic.  A community’s conditional sentence is also recognized as a punishment.  This is because it is less drastic as well as harsh as compared with a prison term.  However it is more punitive and controlling compared with release without supervision.   Concerning incarceration, it should only be imposed when necessary since it may be destructive to the society’s right to offenders who pose danger to public because they have rejected court or social mandates (Farrall, 2002 p. 45-52).  In emphasizing the impact of the criminal behaviour, the incarceration program could be regarded as an appropriate tool hence establishes a constructive behaviour change.  It is therefore essential that institutions adhere to the required standards and they should also be humane.  Lastly, community correctional programs should be in a position to best serve the community in cases whereby there is lack of compromise concerning the public safety.  It is also essential that majority of the offenders be provided with services that are within the community whereby they will be expected to clearly demonstrate their acceptable behaviors (Rush, 2001 p. 46-49).


Since community correctional programs are generally cost – effective, they enable criminal offenders to stay in touch with their families while at the same time pay taxes and also reinstitution of offenders, comprehending the issue that concerns justice for the wrong doing by criminal offenders and at the same time placing these offenders within the social context to enable them fit within the society.  Probation practitioners are also charged with the responsibility of providing necessary information to the courts and this is done on the client’s best interest and also issues the court with information, recommendations and assistance which relates to the attitude change, rehabilitation as well as behavioural change.  This is done with the aim of assisting the courts in decisions concerning sentencing and any review that needs to be made (Nandi & Bogue 2003 p. 56-64).

High-risk offenders on the other hand are those people in the community who present potential harm to the public at a high degree.  They are potentially capable or may have committed offenses such as violent offenses as well as sexual harassment or offence.  Some of these risk- offenders may have in the past committed an offence and are again capable of doing it against whereas others pose a threat to the public Dillingham, Montgomery & Tabor 1990 p. 56-60).


The high-risk offenders are quite a complex and difficult group to handle since they poses a wide range of behaviours that include offenses hence controlling and monitoring them sufficiently becomes difficult and this also includes enforcing the legal restrictions that are placed on them by the probation service.  These high-risk offenders that are placed on probation committed all sorts of offenses   ranging from murder to sexual harassment and violence.  They are dangerous to the entire public and hence they need certain corrective measures that could be helpful in order to assist them be part and parcel of the social system hence abiding by the societal norms and laws.  Probation institutions have in the part applied a range of structural and technological methods to be able to achieve the aim of monitoring and supervising criminal offenders who pose harm to the entire society.  This therefore calls for the probation centers to provide essential skills and resources to be able to address the problem emotional and social deficits that make them present harm to people (Berman and Bergman, 2006 p. 15-18).

Probation practitioners in the probation service often face the risk of working with criminal offenders who present high risk of harm to them and the society.  Probation and parole officers often come across situations that concern personal danger and threat because of the increased numbers of violence, high-risk offenders and also those offenders that are sexually aggressive who most of the times live in    the most hostile  and dangerous neighbourhoods.  These practitioners also face dangerous weapons, gang-related crime as well as substance abuse by these criminal offenders (Clear, 1985 p. 45-51).  Various jurisdictions in the United States more so the federal system have increasingly played the role of allowing practitioners in the probation personnel defense sprays, firearms and impact weapons so as to prevent any harm or threat from these criminal offenders.  However, in various parts such as North America, such supplements for defense have not been made available to these practitioners although they have frequently been asking for them especially in the surveillance and supervision service ageneses have been advocating for various on-going training  as well as orientation programs that is linked to officer safety, awareness of threats, self-defense as well as programs that concern employee assistance that could effectively deal with issues concerning workplace safety and those other issues that relate to co-worker violence and harassment (McAnany &  Fogel 2001p.14-28).  These criminal offenders present a wide range of risks and targets namely they could be sex offenders who have a long history of hostage taking, infatuation and forced confinement with the other officers who are of the opposite sex. They could also be mentally ill offenders who present harm and threat to the probation practitioners.  They could also be mentally ill offenders who present harm and threat to the probation practitioners.  These offenders may also be under the influence of drugs that alter the functioning their minds as well as alcohol.  In addition, these offenders may be under the threat of suspension, arrest or revocation (Cohen, Neil, 1999 p. 21-17).

The clients and families of these probation officers could be experiencing a crisis of violence from these criminal offenders.  The most common risk  factors that are displayed by these criminal offenders include precious  behaviours that they demonstrate, alienation, deteriorating behaviour, threats as well as marital and employment situations, deteriorating mental condition which is accompanied by substance abuse (Burnett, 2000 p. 12-14).

Probation practitioners therefore need essential skills that are necessary to prevent them from any necessary harm or threat that may be presented to them by the criminal offenders who pose a risk to their lives since they are in constant contact with them at their workplaces.  These practitioners, need to protect themselves and hence they need procedural safeguards that include logging in case records, policies and procedures that will be able to train these practitioners and security awareness, safety of the officers, self-defense and communication skills.  This therefore means that practitioners at the probation service need to be trained on both communication skills and other safety rules that concerns the handling of these offenders as well as safeguarding their daily lives at workplace.  The probation practitioners also need the skills that will enable them to develop security threats that concern “red of lags” (Branham, Lynn 1998, p.  54-56).

Practitioners also need to inform other officers of their whereabouts by letting people to know where they intend to go and expected time of return.  This is helpful in dealing with any personal threats accompanied by assistance provided for enforcement of the law, temporary relocation and protection should be provided to these practitioners as well as debriefing of any critical incident stress.  The practitioners at the probation service also need to be trained on programs that entail victim assistance and employee assistance so that they are not in a position to be constantly involved in conflicts with these offenders while working with them.  In order to reduce threats some situational preventive measures as well as threat reduction services need to be applied (Colin, Burnett, 2004 p. 67-69).

The officer needs to be careful with the way he communicates with the criminal offenders.  If the officer believes that offender poses a threat to them, they should not make any unaccompanied visits to the offender’s house for any interviews and if the interview has to go on, they should ensure that there is a high visibility of staff in such situations (Carlson & Parks, 1979 p. 15-18).

In conclusion, practitioners at the probation service need essential skills that will be of help to them when it comes to handling of issues that relate to criminal offenders who pose a great risk to them especially at work place.  They should be able to have training skills which is essential needed for improving their interpersonal offenders as a means of communication.  They also need to be trained so as to increase the self-effectiveness regarding their job and communication with these offenders.

Management skills are also essential for these practitioners management also relates to the way the criminal offenders are handled.  Good management skills entails knowing the needs of both the officers and the criminal offenders so as there exists no conflict of interest.  Just like any other organizations worldwide, probation service centers needs to have rules and regulations that directs its daily activities as concerns the welfare of offenders among other things.  The organization needs to be accountable in all its activities so as to effectively manage the welfare of the society and those of the offenders (Beaumont, 1995 p.20-24).

Leadership skills are also essential for probation officers.  Good leadership skills result to good management in the organization.  Probation service centers need to have good leaders so as to be able to reinforce the required rules and obligations hence achieving the objectives of the organization (Gibbs, 1997 p. 23-24).


Leadership skills are essentials since it helps to bring forth the offenders who are incapable of change by strictly reinforcing the required standards that are needed in handling them.   The above mentioned skills are very important in as far achieving an effective justice department is concerned. A good understanding of probationary knowledge is therefore an asset to staff serving in the profession.