Impact plan 'reduces reoffending': Probation Service

Police officer holding handcuffs
Image caption The police are hoping this programme will drive down reoffending rates

Repeat offenders on a new monitoring scheme in Somerset commit 40% fewer crimes than those who are not, the Probation Service has claimed.

The Impact programme works by offering those at most risk of reoffending help and support with housing, mental health and relationships and other issues.

Prolific burglar and drug addict Mark believes the scheme has helped him.

It was pioneered in Bristol in 2008 and launched in Somerset in March 2011.

The Ministry of Justice said the scheme helped offenders take charge of the lives while protecting communities.

Police and probation officers also believe a relatively small number of criminals commit a relatively high number of crimes, and by focusing on these they can reduce crime significantly.

Mark - a former heroin and crack addict who was committing up to 200 burglaries a year in Somerset - said the scheme had helped him.

'Back in prison'

"Everything is monitored but it's monitored to keep me in a structure and a regime.

"Before, it would go off course and I wouldn't realise I was going off course and before I knew it I would be back in prison."

Offenders on Impact are dealt with differently from those on traditional probation programmes.

Information about them is shared much more closely than usual, among police, probation, drug workers, housing associations and other agencies.

Also, offenders are in closer and more frequent contact with the police and probation service, often two or three times a week.

Impact probation officer Sharon Thorne says this means she is better able to spot when offenders are about to return to crime.

She said: "If people aren't engaging and attending we can look at making decisions about recall much quicker than we might have done if they were being seen only once a week or once a fortnight."

But there is a more controversial difference too.

Offenders on the scheme get help and support with problems which Impact officers believe could lead them back to reoffending.

The help available can be wide-ranging, including everything from accommodation to relationship issues, mental health support, education and training.

'Building relationships'

But Ms Thorne is adamant her clients do not get special treatment.

"By building relationships we can encourage different agencies to take on our client group which they probably wouldn't have before.

"They don't jump the list. They look at priority needs, but we are able to explain the risks and how that might impact on other residents."

This focus on the reasons behind reoffending has led to police and probation officers developing close relationships with the people being monitored.

PC Jim Breakwell, who works on the Impact programme, said: "They know they can phone me or my colleagues on a daily basis.

"Before, they might not have been able to deal with an issue that arose and it might have led to something happening they didn't want.

"Now they can give us a call and we can be kind of social workers but also just a friend sometimes."

He admits some people might question why people like Mark who have committed hundreds of burglaries are getting detailed help and support. But he believes the end justifies the means.

"What I'm after is for there to be fewer victims of crime. If we can stop them offending there will be less victims of crime.

"There are fewer people my colleagues have to go and see because their houses have been burgled.

"That's my aim and the team's aim as a whole."

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