GOVERNMENT & DEFENCE

Real Talk: Everything you’ve wanted to ask a parole officer

Can people be rehabilitated? What motivates crimes? Is drug abuse a big problem?

Here’s a Q&A from our series, Real Talk:

Interesting people telling us interesting stories. Enjoy.

The Footnotes: So I guess firstly, what does a corrections officer do?

Carly: Well, there’s two different types of corrections officers. So I’m in the community, so I’m a community corrections officer. The other type of corrections officers are in the prisons. So there’s kind of a couple of different categories I suppose, of what I do. There’s the reports side, where I provide parole reports to the parole board and court reports to the courts. And there’s the supervision side where I manage a caseload of offenders who are either on a community based order, a conditional suspended imprisonment order, a suspended sentence or a parole order.

The Footnotes: So making it really simplistic, assuming that people reading this have no real knowledge of, I guess – the parole process and how prisoners get rehabilitated into society. How does it work?

Carly: Sure, okay. So a lot of parolees come out with requirements or supervision programs. It depends on what their offending history is and what they need for what drove that behaviour. There are people on my caseload who its kind of more about monitoring their behaviour rather than really doing developmental work because the risk to the community. Child sex offenders would be one group of people, I suppose that is more about monitoring. Whereas, we have a lot of people who their offending is very much tied into their substance use.

Meth is a huge problem here in Perth, and probably the whole of Australia, actually.

So, I see a lot of people who commit quite, sometimes quite petty crimes, although lots of it.

You know, they could be breaking into people’s cars or stealing handbags or there’s a lot of burglaries that happen with meth. So, people who are offending, to fund their drug addiction.

And so with those categories of offenders, they come out of parole with supervision and programs and there’ll be certain conditions of their parole order. So they would not be able to use elicit drugs. And we would check up on them with random and frequent urinalysis testing. And they would have to go to drug and alcohol treatment programs, that could be as little as three sessions through a community based drug and alcohol program all the way through residential rehab for 12 months. It kind depends on the nature of their offence and then the severity of that and whether they are drug addicted or whether they had a poor reaction to a situation or events in their life.

The Footnotes: What did you do yesterday?

Carly: So I was doing an accommodation assessment yesterday for a guy who’s about to come out on parole. He was, you know, the epitome of a great family man, great loving, caring, family man. He came home, his wife had been cheating on him and cleaned out their house and taken their kids. And he, for the first time ever, got into drug use and, and associating with negative peers. Then he kind of committed this spree of crimes and then ended up in prison and this was his first offence. So, for someone like him, it’s very situational. He’s done a lot of counselling in prison. He’s met a new partner. He’s got a very loving, supportive family. So for him, I wouldn’t consider him to be, necessarily a high risk of re offending.

Whereas, someone who has been committing drug related crimes for the last thirty years is a much more sever risk to the community for release.

The Footnotes: It must be really hard when you are working so closely with people who are committing crimes because of addiction. And then, I think for a lot of them it would be almost like a revolving door – they’d be in and out of prison all the time. How do you deal with that?

Carly: Yeah, look there’s a point in life where most people get to where they’re ready to make change. So you see this quite often with males, especially, who they might commit crimes and are kind of getting involved in the wrong peer group. When they’re at school, they might be expelled from school. Or if they’re in to drugs then they’re doing crimes. And then later on they’ll kind of settle down and have a family and a lot of people desist from offending then.

But there are lot of people who’ve grown up in a really traumatic upbringing, lots physical, mental, sexual abuse – lots of neglect.

You know, I met with someone yesterday who’s having their tenth child and all the other previous nine children are in care.

For me, I know how that will generally work out for the children. You know, they’ll grow up without their parents around. They’ll be in and out of foster homes.

The Footnotes: It’s sad to think that some young people are on a negative trajectory through no fault of their own…

Carly: Yeah, it’s really distressing. I mean, this guy that I met the other day, I think he’s been in and out of 76 foster homes himself. So you can kind of see how that lack of stability can end up with people, kind of wanting to find their own subculture. And often that’s a gang. You know, its just people who will accept them and it’s often people who are taking drugs and alcohol and offending as well. For them it’s a place where they’ll be accepted.

 

So that, that kind of history definitely brings about that revolving door, where really they don’t know any different. I mean it really takes a miracle for someone to invest the time in them and for them to really want to believe in themselves and then to stop committing those offences.

The Footnotes: Do you find it frustrating seeing people coming to you and saying, you know – this time it’s going to be different. I’m going to really make a change – knowing where it’s going to lead? Or is that just part of the job?

Carly: Yeah, it is a bit of part of the job. It’s not very often, but I am surprised every now and again. I’m working with someone at the moment who he’s been involved in drug related offending for pretty much his whole life and he a very traumatic upbringing, he’s in his fifties now. And he has completely turned his life around.

We have a file for each person we work with. For some people its very thin, like their first offense. And for other people you get different volumes and for him I think I got about six different volumes of files. So much offending, all drug related. And so when I got his case, I thought there’s no chance for this guy changing. And he’s come out and done a complete turn around.

When you first meet someone like that you just maybe they’re just trying to pull the wool over my eyes, or I don’t expect this to last very long, but he’s been for three months and he’s just seems to get stronger every time that I see him. That doesn’t mean that he has no chance of relapsing.

The Footnotes: What was his crime?

Carly: Burglary, he was generally always using meth, and there were a lot of burglaries, a lot of petty crimes. But then a lot of serious crimes as well, like aggravated burglary. I think the last occasion the house burned down. It was quite varied.

And that’s the thing with drug related offending. Is that it can be very varied, because they do. I met someone the other day that had been awake for seven weeks on meth.

The Footnotes: Oh my God.

Carly: That person would be a completely different person awake for even two days compared to what they would be like off drugs with lots of sleep. There’s a lot of violence that goes with someone like that. It doesn’t take much for someone to look at them funny in the street cause they’re looking a bit odd. For some kind of violence to happen in the street. Lots of assaults, public hostiles when they’re being arrested, that kind of thing.

The Footnotes: Is there access to meth in prison, do you find?

Carly: Yeah definitely. No just meth, everything. I was just watching the news this morning and it was either Queensland or New South Wales, but there’s a prison where they’re now going to supply with socks and boxes. Because their families were previously allowed to send them in undies and stuff, but they finding contraband stitched into the undies. It’s not that difficult to smuggle drugs into prison. And pretty much every single prison has the same problem.

The Footnotes: That would make your job a lot harder?

Carly: It doesn’t make it easy. They do a lot of searches in prison and they do a lot of urine testing as well. As someone who then supervises someone on parole, I would get to see his or her whole history about his or her prison contacts. So I will know if they are addicted and sometimes can have an idea of where they are getting their drugs.

The Footnotes: So when you are monitoring someone that’s on parole, what does that look like? Is it visiting them everyday and chatting to them and just using your skills from psychology to know if they’re lying to you?

Carly: So generally they come into the office. So when someone first gets released into parole they have a condition to report within 72 hours to their nearest correction centre. They would come in and see the GP officer at the time. You do intake with that person which is generally going through their parole conditions with them and getting them to sign the usual paperwork. They generally get a weekly appointment with a corrections officer for the first few weeks at least. It kind of depends on how they’re going. After about 4-8 weeks that usually drops down to fortnightly, depending on how they’re going. If a part of their parole conditions were to submit to urine test then we would direct them to attend urine testing either in our office or at local hospitals.

They would come in to see us and see provision every week. We would take them through, do reflection exercises around their offending, what lead them there, what’s going to be different this time, what they need now, and how can we help them. Usually there’s a program element to either attend things like counselling in the community or see our departmental psychologist, go for drug and alcohol counselling if that’s relevant, grief counselling, and those kinds of things.

They generally have a condition to not leave the state without permission. For sex offenders, they have to report to the sex offender management team as well as us. Some people have things like conditional bail, where they have to report to the police station every day. So there can be a lot to it, really depends on the nature of their offending and what their needs are that are driving it.

The Footnotes: Do you get intimidated by working that closely with people that have offended or are using drugs and are dangerous to society?

Carly: Very rarely in the last 10 years, 10 or 11 years that I’ve been doing this have I felt intimidated by anyone. I think there’s less, probably 3 people I’ve felt intimidated by. And they were actually all in London. If someone was to turn up under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and we knew they became violent under the influence then we wouldn’t see them. We have the ability to see them, we have a number of different rooms that we can see them in. And there’s a couple that have cameras. And if we know that someone’s a danger then we can flag it with the rest of the team and they can be standing and watching the cameras and be on alert kind of thing.

We do have panic buttons in the room if we feel like we need them. We can see someone behind the glass at reception and not even take him or her into a room.

There was one time and I was working in Brixton in London, which is a pretty hectic area. I was running a program called Think First and it was between 7 and 9 at night. One of the guys there, he came in, he brought the Quran and he was preaching the Quran to the rest of the group. And he was being quite intimidating towards me and the other guy that was running it. So I was, I think I was about 24 at the time, so just this young white chick in the middle of Brixton. White people are pretty much a minority around there.

I was teaching it with this young, white gay guy. This guy who came with the Quran, he took a dislike to him. And he was talking about how Allah took all the gays and separated them from the rest of the community and he was trying to get everyone involved in reading the Quran. And we were trying to say to him, that this isn’t an appropriate forum for you to do that here. We’re running an offending behaviour program and he came back later after asking all of us if we believed in God. Which is not really a topic that you want to be delving into necessarily with someone with those kinds of extremist beliefs.

He came back with a baseball bat and he was running it along the shutters outside the office.

I literally lived around the corner. So I would walk home from work, so I called my boyfriend on that occasion and asked him to come and get me, because I didn’t want to be walling past this guy. I did see him out on the streets a couple of times. I did my best to avoid his gaze.

I did get threatened with a shotgun once. I don’t think she actually had a shotgun, but she said she did. That was also in Brixton. But most of the time I don’t feel intimidated. They’re just people at the end of the day. It could be any one of us that’s in that situation and that’s kind of how I look at it.

The Footnotes: So, how did you get involved in it, in that kind of work?

Carly: Well, I’ve always been really fascinated with working with people and helping people. I was kind of always the agony aunt in school where my friends would come and talk to me about their problems and I’d kind of know what to say, so that kind of led me into psychology at school. I went on to do a degree in psychology and then a master’s in forensic psychology. I’ve got a few police officers in my family, and my uncle works at Scotland Yard Murder Squad. So I’ve kind of always had that around me in my family as well, and so forensic psychology was a natural progression for me. And then I did some temping for a couple of years after uni. And then I saw a job ad there for a trainee probation officer in London, and that was a two year course, and I ended up doing that in in London, and then I carried on that work over in Australia when I moved there.

The Footnotes: Can I ask, so what is forensic psychology?

Carly: It’s basically anything to do with psychology and crime. So, psychology is about people and then forensics is really about looking at the criminal behaviour of people.

The Footnotes: A lot of students now want to do criminology because they are so fascinated with the criminal system and I guess, rehabilitation. Is a degree in criminology on its own effective to get in to your line of work? Or do you think that you need to study psychology first?

Carly: I think it would be. Psychology is definitely helpful, too. A degree in criminology would definitely get you into my line of work, a I know a few patrol officers who have studied criminology – or social work – or something like that. Forensic psychology focuses on the abnormal brain, so there’s a lot of mental health involved at that as well, which that really helps in my job as well.

I spent six years working in a non-government organisation here in Perth, which was focused on intensive mental health. I would be working with people with severe and persistent kind of mental illnesses; like schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder, bipolar, that kind of thing. Working in mental health has really helped me in my role as a corrections officer because a lot of people who commit crimes also have a mental illness, or substance abuse and that kind of thing. So, they all kind of feed into each other.

The Footnotes: What do you love about your job?

Carly: So much. I think the thing I love the most is that everyone is so different. Everyone has incredible stories and often I’m sat there saying to them, kudos to you for still being alive. Kudos to you for being the kind of person you are despite all of this. Because I just can’t imagine having to live their lives. So just hearing the stories from people and seeing people change, the fact that people can and do change, often witnessing the darkest corners of peoples minds and how they recover from that.

I think everyday is just fascinating to me. I love that. Its not boring, mundane, do the same kind of thing everyday job.

The Footnotes: For students that want to get involved in your kind of work, how do they go about it?

Carly: I would definitely do a degree. So whether that’s psychology or criminology, sociology or become a police officer – pick something where you will learn about people. You often don’t necessarily need one specific degree to get into this kind of job.

And sometimes you don’t need the degree to get into this job. I know that in corrections in WA at the moment, sometimes you need a degree and other times you don’t. It kind of depends on what kind of role you want to get into within the system.

I’m a CCO, the level down below me is an assistant CCO, community corrections officer. And they generally deal with the low risk clients. And they will set up curfews and home detention and community work. So there’s lots of ways in. But to have studied something that is relevant is really important I think.

My advice is that you need to be really interested in people. Curious questioning is really what this job is about. So you can find out the most interesting things about someone that you would consider the most boring person just by asking them really curious questions. So just get really interested in people and who they are and where they come from and how they’ve overcome the adversities that they faced. Because that’s the nature of the client group that I work with. They generally have gone through some hectic traumas in life, and they’re still here. So I think to be interested in what makes people tick and the kind of strength that they have, to be able to get through the adversities that they face is a really important part of the job.

The Footnotes: You’ve got to have one of the most interesting jobs I’ve ever come across, thank so much for your time.

Carly: Yeah, I absolutely love it.

Real Talk: Everything you’ve wanted to ask a parole officer
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