Jail or supervision?

One would like to think criminals that pose a danger or unreasonable risk to the public should be locked up. There are alternatives, but the merit of such alternatives seems to be undermined by the concern over the quality of the supervision.

One may question why it is only after the event that something gets done.  In this case Dano Sonnex and Nigel Farmer were found guilty of the appalling murders of French students Laurent Bonomo and Gabriel Ferez. An investigation into the London Probation Service was ordered by Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, but by this time, Dano Sonnex had been tried, convicted and sentenced for the sadistic murder of Laurent Bonomo and Gabriel Ferez at a flat in New Cross, London.  After the trial it emerged that there had been failings by the London probation service, prompting the resignation of David Scott, the Chief Probation Officer for the London area.  At the time of the murders, Dano Sonnex was subject to a warrant for his arrest and recall to prison for breach of his probation licence conditions.

It seems like yet another tragedy waiting to happen.  Could anything have been done to better protect the public?  Many of you may think so even before hearing the outcome of the investigation.  It is not as if the Probation Service did not have concerns about the adequacy of its own services.

In a report last June, Andrew Bridges, the Chief Inspector of Probation, gave a warning that the supervision of offenders assessed as medium risk — the same category in which Sonnex was put — was unsatisfactory. He ordered an action plan within four weeks of the date of his report which at least suggests a sense of urgency.

Andrew Bridges was reported as saying that overall, probation in London was “travelling in the right direction under committed leadership” and went on to say "The management needed to retain....a determined watching brief on the quality of its front-line practice and not to do anything which risks impacting negatively on what is a tentative but promising improvement journey”.

Less than two weeks after Mr Bridges’s report was published, Sonnex, under the supervision of London probation, murdered the two French students.

So why did it happen?

A number of reasons have been put forward.  The internal inquiry conducted after Sonnex and Nigel Farmer murdered the students concluded that the Probation Service’s failings were “a consequence of high case-loads, relative inexperience, and having insufficient supervision from a senior probation officer who also lacked experience and was in an acting position”.

In particular it has been widely reported that Dano Sonnex's probation officer had three times the average workload.  Apparently the female officer supervising Sonnex, having been qualified as a probation officer for nine months, had a case-load of 127 offenders — compared with an average of 37.7 cases per probation officer across London as a whole. 

Rather worryingly the National Association of Probation Officers have pointed to a lack of experienced senior case officers.

The National Offender Management Service, identified  that management failings had led to an unacceptable situation.

A spokesperson for the organisation also referred to the lack of experience and the heavy workload pointing out the officer dealing with Sonnex had only limited experience and the overall probation team in the Borough was relatively young.  He added that the case-load of 127, borne by the probation officer, could not be defended.

One wonders about the level and quality of the support that caseworkers received. Indeed this seems to be the concern of Harry Fletcher, the Assistant General Secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, who said: "If staff had received the same level of supervision, attention and inspection as they received during the inquiry after the murders, things might have been different".







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