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Mike Guilfoyle

Mike Guilfoyle

Mike Guilfoyle was a probation officer in London from1990 to 2010



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Stephen Grosz writes engagingly wise reflections of his years working as a therapist, and about the many thousands of hours he spent offering hope and understanding to those troubled by emotional trauma. Reading his book brought to mind my time when working as a probation officer with Rodney (not his real name), whose troubled pathway to supervision made for a particularly challenging probation experience. Having read the Crown Prosecution Service prosecution papers and seen the notes made on (at the time) a partially completed psychological report; our pre-sentence report interview quickly became a worryingly terse exchange.

Rodney had damaged property belonging to the former partner of a woman he stated he was in a relationship with. Whilst the items damaged were of small value, the context in which the offences occurred left me with some concerns regarding his psychological well-being. He had spent hours scouring the area looking for the victim’s address, and had inflicted the damage in such a way that it appeared he was intent on frightening and intimidating him. Once the period of supervision commenced (the court having agreed that a term of statutory oversight was fitting), Rodney attended the appointments with a rarely seen diligence. He often arrived at the probation office well in advance of our meetings, and the issue of compliance due to reporting was never in doubt.

But the tone and content of the supervisory meetings soon became emotionally very draining as he began to talk about his painful memories of growing up in a household that seemed largely bereft of attentive care and concern. The inflections in his voice suggested a level of disengagement that was at times very disconcerting. I struggled to hold together what I believed to be the salient developmental issues that informed his lack of remorse and his, at times, disturbed articulations. He would on occasion offer hints that he might harm himself or others, and then backtrack when he had elicited my professional response.

‘Don’t worry Mike, I won't do anything serious!’ was a regular comment. Before one meeting, I had a phone call from a 'concerned friend' to say that Rodney had been seen standing on a rail track narrowly missing passing trains and had only moved away when police were in the vicinity. He would only admit that he was in the area, and that reports of him being 'in danger' were just inaccurate. On another occasion, he explained that during his teenage years, he had taken his father’s car, without permission, and wrecked it, but when they met after this incident, no mention was ever made of his transgression.

I sought out the professional opinions of colleagues on numerous occasions and shared my apprehensions (Rodney was vehemently opposed to any mental health referral). Then his two years under supervision came to an end, although many other alarming insights and potentially harmful episodes arose over this timeframe (which are beyond the scope of this article). He insisted that before the order expired I arrange a three way meeting with my probation manager (someone who I had the highest confidence in as a supportive colleague). At this meeting, to my consternation, Rodney suggested that I had not offered him the level of emotional support he felt he merited and as such felt let down by the experience. My colleague offered his observations, ‘Mike spent two years as your probation officer and has shared today some of the ways that he feels he has sought to help you. I understand that you feel angered at the formal end of this period on probation’. 

As Rodney was leaving the probation office he extended his hand and said, ‘I only wished that my father would have listened to me they way that you have'!

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In their provocative and deeply humane work, Banished to the Homeland, David C Brotherton and Luis Barrios describe the grim situation facing many of those from the Dominican Republic, deported from the USA, who have been caught up in the mesh of criminal justice and immigration detention. Their book reminded me of a meeting with Carlos (not his real name) when working as a probation officer. I was notified that Carlos had arrived at the probation office and I had picked up responsibility for his supervision when he had moved from another part of London. He was noticeably reticent and uncommunicative at our first meeting, having been held by immigration officers following an anonymous tip off. He had, it appeared, breached the terms of his stay in the UK by working and, as a result, lost his employment and was forced to fend for himself. This quickly resulted in a spiral of debt, instability and transient drug misuse. This had then occasioned a court appearance as he became more 'visible' to the authorities in the shadowland of petty criminality and a period of statutory supervision was imposed for drug possession. I worked towards gaining a greater understanding and cultural insight into his situation. This I hoped would foster a more collaborative relationship, while looking at ways of enhancing harm reduction, connecting him to outreach agencies (he had ongoing if variable immigration advisors) and ensuring that the terms of his supervision were broadly met; this presented a considerable casework challenge.

Without visible means of support and having experienced broken relationships with dispersed family members had also pushed him towards a troublingly marginal existence. Carlos' increasingly dire personal circumstances meant that his regular reporting became erratic reporting and then he 'disappeared' for some weeks. As a consequence, a warrant was issued for his arrest for breach (after arduous efforts to contact all the street agencies he relied on for support proved unhelpful). Some time later, I received a call from one of my court duty probation colleagues. Carlos was on the 'overnight' list for a hearing at the magistrates' court and I was canvassed as to whether the order should continue or be reviewed for progress (at the time there was a margin of judicial discretion on breaches). As he was represented by the duty solicitor, a hurried discussion by telephone ensued. I affirmed that in spite of his troubling circumstances, Carlos had not re-offended (breach action aside) and if he was willing to re-engage with probation, then maybe a nugatory penalty could be considered. The court listened to representations and specifically asked Carlos why he had lost contact with his probation officer. He replied 'I knew that Mike would still have confidence that I would not get into trouble, but my spirits were so low I could not face him to say that I was losing hope'. Refugee Action has recently launched a legal challenge on the issue of seeking some redress to ensure basic support for destitute asylum seekers.

Carlos stumbled over the probation finishing line - just!  I do hope that his long-term aim of working for a better future for himself within the law has come to pass (I did not encounter him again as a probation officer), and his much interrupted probation experience did in some small but meaningful way make a difference for him. 

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One of my more compelling reads over the festive season was the true-crime narrative The man who loved books too much by Allison Hoover Bartlett. It provides a fascinating insight into the illicit activities of a compulsive and unrepentant book thief called John Gilkey. Gilkey’s motivation for stealing appeared to be his bibliomanic obsession with acquiring rare first edition books and his efforts, in the well worn cat and mouse such readable stories elicit, of a book seller seeking to thwart any efforts to bring him to justice. This somewhat rarefied excursion into the world of book thefts and private obsessions put me in mind of an interesting supervisory experience when working as a probation officer that in some ways had a telling resonance with the Gilkey case.

I was allocated responsibility for preparing a pre-sentence report on Albert (not his real name) and was immediately intrigued at the prospect of engaging with someone whose meticulous planning and evident historical curiosity in researching the objects of interest to him meant that he resorted to stealing rare books. This had resulted in Albert facing what was most likely, given the estimated value of the stolen items, a custodial sentence. The departure from the norm for preparing such reports, usually undertaken after one interview at the probation office, meant that a further two appointments were arranged. This was because the case involved the need for Albert's defence counsel to enlist a specialist 'expert witness' to counter the prosecution estimates of the damage his thefts of rare books had caused. At the point of sentencing at the Crown Court, the case had excited some media interest, and the reputational implications of a prison sentence loomed large for Albert. In the event, a custodial sentence was imposed, and the pains of confinement experienced by Albert, whose wider family had also offered him ongoing support, was acutely felt. In view of the fact that his risk categorisation by the prison service was low, he was able to spend the bulk of his sentence in a low security prison.

On release on licence, I undertook the routine home visit, as this was a mandated but important aspect of the resettlement period on statutory supervision. Albert was gradually rebuilding the broken links with his family and work place (but civil action for compensation from the rare edition book industry remained a reality throughout his time on licence). Albert’s compliance with the requirements of the licence was never of concern to me. In many ways, discussing the unfamiliar and exotic world of rare books along with our shared passion for these books with him provided a welcome departure from exploring in supervision the more mundane transgressions of many of those under supervision. Albert opined, when I queried his motivation for stealing these rare editions, that: 'There is a fine line between cherishing books and developing an obsession to possess them at whatever cost, have you thought Mike that even you might be tempted to cross that line?’.

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I vividly recall my initial meeting with the Criminologist Jock Young, whose untimely death was recently announced. I had applied to undertake the part time MA in Criminology at Middlesex University and when interviewed by Jock, his inimitably relaxed but immensely authoritative manner helped me through the meeting to secure a place on the course. He asked in his insouciant way, if I had been influenced by any book on crime and deviance in looking at my work in probation. With some hesitation, I mentioned Jack Katz's seminal text The Seductions of Crime knowing well that grounded ethnographic accounts of law-breaking had greatly shaped his own criminological outlook. I also took some of the insights from the 'seductions of crime' back to the probation office.

Meeting John (not his real name) at the probation office (then situated in a part of London that had been dubbed by the local press as 'London at its most lawless') was a memorable event. His considerable accumulation of deeds of 'theft by shoplifting', and what at the time I imagined was an almost Dickensian persona, heavy build and bewhiskered and often befuddled by copious alcoholic consumption! This meant that our meeting quickly descended into a confused and rambling exchange and offered only limited scope for my pre-sentence report. The magistrates' court, recognising that John was 'in need of probation support', placed him on supervision, and he dutifully reported later in the week. 'So what can you do for me?' he declared, 'I have been "at it" for 25 years, and know all there is to know about thieving!'.

We worked together over a period of 12 months and often our meetings resembled nothing short of bilious mutterings and half remembered reminiscences of the 'good old days' before the Harrods security systems improved! John made occasional racy references to his time when entrusted by a 'Mr Big' to manage Adult Shops in Soho. I noted in small ways that John was beginning to share parts of his richly textured biography that were most meaningful to him. Maybe here was a way to try to encourage and support a shift in his approach to stealing. Maybe behaving like a fieldworker, I might drop some of what I felt was the more distancing language that probation officers adopted to get to know John better. He steadfastly declined all my efforts to home visit, stating that he had to care for an ailing relative, and did not want me to disturb his domesticity! But I did reach a point in our meetings, when I sensed, some modest changes, arising from a better understanding of his life situation, more meaningful engagement and positive experiences of probation, in his pattern of acquisitive offending. At one of our final supervisory sessions, 'Mr Guilfoyle' (he always insisted on that conventional address), 'I am reaching retiring age, maybe I am not as comfortable about stealing from shops, after all, you know more about me, than I do'.

I did politely decline his offer a yuletide present, advising that he return the item to whence it came!

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Reading Vicky Pryce's experiences in Prisonomics, I was struck by a number of references she made to the complex needs of some of her fellow prisoners, which brought to mind my former supervisory contact with Miriam (not her real name).

Miriam was a troubled and troublesome woman whose enduring struggle with alcohol dependency and domestic violence required a particularly sensitive approach. When she reported to the probation office, following a Crown Court appearance for assaulting a neighbour, I had already recognised the added pressures attendant on Social Services' involvement in relation to safeguarding her youngest child. Furthermore, that the way ahead in enabling the probation supervision element of a suspended sentence order (which meant that any further infraction or breach could result in custody) was to work alongside the family and enlist those best able to tailor their support to Miriam's sometimes combustible personality.

To this end, I made a particular point of arranging to make regular home visits so that she was better able to comply with the order. Arrangements were made for her to meet with the local Social Services manager, who it appeared had been recruited to bolster the work of the inexperienced social worker, whose relationship with Miriam had teetered on breaking down. When I arrived at the Social Services Office, the anticipatory tension was evident.  Miriam arrived with her child - who was unusually fractious - which meant that I was called upon to offer some empathic support so that her threats to withdraw from the meeting subsided.

It was difficult for me to hold back from expressing my annoyance at what I saw as a patronising and, at times, unhelpfully didactic approach from the manager. Miriam did not have such scruples and we agreed to adjourn the meeting to allow feelings to cool. The manager indicated that a more robust supervisory input was needed: 'We could end up with you going to prison, if you fail to agree to mandated alcohol testing', he said. For a few uncertain moments I was convinced that she was about to scupper the planned intervention, the threat of custody was palpably present and the two years that I had worked with Miriam seemed to hang in the balance. 

Miriam resolved with a confidence born of necessity to comply with the planned measures agreed at the meeting, with varying degrees of subsequent motivation. But what would it have benefited Miriam, her child, or the wider community to have sent her into custody? Shortly, the government aims to introduce a punitive element in all community sentences. With Miriam, as sole carer for her child, the challenge was to assist her in complying with an ever demanding order and care proceedings whilst strengthening her family ties and offering a pathway to employability. For Miriam being on a community sentence was very far from being the sloganising 'soft option' pandered by headline-seeking politicians. She offered her usually frank opinion at the time of her order concluding, 'Mike, I got through this order... just...my heads up and you ain't goin' see me inside anytime soon'.

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I was measurably impressed after recently reading the refreshingly honest comments of Eileen Munro, Professor of Social Policy at LSE, following the serious case review on the tragic life and death of Daniel Pelka.  She said that, having examined the work pressure on social work staff in the challenging environment of child protection, and with such a complex case, 'I can't claim I would have done better'. This brought to mind a particularly stressful parole interview that I undertook when working as a probation officer.

At the time, due to staffing and workload pressures at the probation office, timescales for the preparation of parole reports had worryingly slipped. In addition, allocation processes in which probation officers were assigned specific responsibility for preparing such reports, often amounted to a chaotic and seemingly arbitrary decision making process at middle management level. Through care and resettlement issues had, due to a faltering internal reorganisation at the time, resulted in poor levels of service provision for serving prisoners. In this context, I was allocated responsibility for preparing a parole assessment report on Jack (not his real name). The timescales for preparation were seriously overdue and Jack had sent numerous complaints and left phone messages at the office. I drove to the prison some distance from London with more than a smidgeon of apprehension and approached the interview with some considerable trepidation. This was amplified when I met a prison officer at reception on the prison wing. Officers invariably allow for such interviews within the prison to be conducted without too much ado unless safety issues intrude: he suggested that he stand at the door as he was fearful for my personal safety.

When I introduced myself to Jack, it was evident that his pent up rage was at what he perceived was the lack of timeliness from the Probation Service, and which might seriously impede his chances of possible release on licence. He launched into a visceral outburst that I had to concede almost made me press the panic button!  I indicated to the prison officer who then entered the room with a view to terminating the meeting that I fully appreciated Jack's genuine upset. Then I suggested that we could find a way of preparing the report which would acknowledge that any delays were due to organisational shortcomings. In the subsequent two hours, in a stiflingly small interview room, I was palpably alarmed (Jack had intimated that his access to firearms might prompt some reprisal on the middle manager he attributed some of his present woes to!). But slowly and subtly his demeanour and utterances suggested that maybe this probation officer was prepared to hear him out, and in spite of his intimidating body language (he had a serious offending history involving the use of violence) was prepared to offer him an opportunity to reflect on his index offence, victim awareness and sentence progression with a view to resettlement on eventual release on licence.

When I left the interview room, the prison officer wearing something of a bemused expression noted that I had stayed the course and commended me on my perseverance in the face of Jack's withering onslaught!  On returning to the office, I set about preparing the parole report and looked again at my notes from the interview. To my great surprise, amongst the scribbled notes I had written down was a comment that Jack had made, but overlooked in the highly charged interview: 'you didn't walk away when I dissed the probation service...looks like some probation officers are decent folk!’.  Looking back, it was a challenging experience - dealing with a very difficult and volatile individual who, I was informed later, was released on licence to be supervised by one of my former colleagues.  

I am left pondering just how the Probation Service will continue to survive if the current sell off plans materialise and wonder  if  Justice Secretary Chris Grayling would have done better?

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The burgeoning literature on the role of compliance in criminal justice, and in particular probation, is finely captured by Fergus McNeil and Gwen Robinson in chapter 6 of Liquid legitimacy and Community Sanctions.  Whilst perusing their contribution on how easily the legitimacy of the practitioner's influence can be lost after being hard won, it reminded me of supervising a community sentence.

Ian (not his real name) was directed to attend the probation office from one of my magistrates based court colleagues for the preparation of a pre-sentence report. The index offence was a breach of an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO). I was pleasantly surprised to see Ian in the waiting room, as the accompanying paperwork had indicated that he was homeless and destitute. However, Ian had good links with a drop-in centre that provided a focal point of support.

The interview was a lengthy one. Ian , whose appearance and associated baggage (his prize belongings he noted) suggested that he had been living homeless on the street for some years.  He preferred, he stated, to remain 'unwashed' as this was a protective measure on the streets and meant that he was less likely to be victimised!

The court followed the proposal in the report that his sentence be deferred for six months so that Ian could demonstrate some motivation to address, amongst other jointly agreed actions, his use of crack cocaine. The visible reminder of this was the crack pipe that he carried with him, and which appeared an all too easy trigger for 'over-zealous' police intervention (the breach related to him carrying his crack pipe on his person). Even though he identified our meeting as a positive one, I fully expected that Ian would find it too onerous to make his next appointment at the probation office. 

So when the receptionist confirmed that Ian had indeed turned up for his follow-up appointment and was regaling other attendees (perhaps less disposed to engage him in discussion) in a crowded waiting area, I was measurably impressed. I gently asked him what he felt had been the reasons that he had kept our meeting, knowing he had to cope with the chilling uncertainty of finding another safe 'snug' for the night and securing whatever funds he had by begging. ('Too much hassle at the Job Centre', he said).  He brushed aside my misgivings, stating that 'I told you I would come back'. Ian found that being able to share in a meaningful way some of his dilemmas about what giving up his periodic usages of crack, and what finding settled accommodation would mean for him, made his journey  to the probation office seem a little less threatening.

Over the next few months, Ian attended three further appointments (with some time variation!) and at the planned court appearance he was sentenced to a short period of supervision. ‘Would you remain my PO?' he murmured when I saw him next in the probation office. At the time, I was informed by local management that cases such as Ian's could now be handled by one of my probation service officer colleagues whose already excessive ‘lower tier/risk' caseload left me deeply concerned. A couple of weeks later I tentatively enquired as to Ian’s progress from my harassed colleague. ‘Oh, that was his name!’ was the offhand response, ‘we have approached the court for a warrant (without bail) as he has not reported’.

A short while later when passing the drop-in centre I noticed Ian in the doorway. When I asked him how he was coping and what had prevented him complying with his community sentence he said, ‘When I met you I thought here is someone who can help me, when I went to that other group I felt that I was there to be punished'.

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In his provocative critique of how the American justice system concerns itself with the complicated relationship between sex-offender surveillance and punishment (Sex Panic and the Punitive State), Roger N Lancaster cautions the reader to keep track of the difference between rational fears and irrational ones. This insight brought to mind my initial meeting with Peter (not his real name) when working as a probation officer. He had been convicted of downloading sexual images of children and a Crown Court had requested that a pre-sentence report and assessment for his suitability to participate in a community based sex-offender treatment programme be prepared. He showed a great deal of discomfort and shame in our interview. At times, I struggled to suppress the recurrent urge to see in Peter all the most heinous and associative predatory aspects of sexual crime. I wondered how I might handle what many reading about such offences would see as the only proper response, namely an unremittingly punitive, controlling and surveillance driven approach to supervision. 

The court accepted the proposal in the report and arrangements were made for Peter to come to the probation office (with a referral to the dedicated sex offender team in the offing). The early stages of supervision provided a foundation for what was to become a trusting and engaged professional relationship (recognising that it was important not to over-estimate the value of this type of intervention) at the expense of other aspects of his life which had disintegrated on the discovery of his sexual offending. Peter found himself without the meaningful relationship with his partner (as she had distanced herself from him when she discovered his downloading activities), and this was an area in which building hope for the future, and fostering the aim towards longer term desistance from these activities featured as joint supervisory goals.

Peter remained motivated and actively participated in the community sex offender programme (which had a specific component to address internet offenders) as well as cooperating with the Jigsaw team (specialist police officers working with sex-offenders). I endeavoured to pre-empt, what is sometimes referred to in the literature as, the 'golem effect', (low expectations leading to poorer outcomes). My expectations of Peter's efforts to successfully complete his community order (three years was the standard length for such offences), made this a challenging supervisory experience. Not least because Peter lost his job in the IT sector and found that his specific career path had to be rethought. In addition he was dealing with the often invisible stigma of such offences, including the ostracism from friends and family.

At the point at which the order was transferred to another area when Peter moved address he had not relapsed. He spoke to me by phone just after moving into his new address, 'Mike, you stayed with me when I thought that I had nowhere to go with my life, I realise that these offences are harmful but now I can see a different future opening up'.

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I was particularly delighted to be able to attend the recent 16th Bill McWilliams Memorial Lecture held at Cambridge University, presented by Professor Paul Senior entitled : Privatising Probation: The Death Knell of a Much-Cherished Public Service? Concluding his lecture, Senior made reference to the unwelcome interventions from mandarins (?) in the Ministry of Justice in what appeared to be a spasm of  'Stasi-like' paranoia, to pressure the sponsors of the lecture to alter/delete the 'provocative' epigram! These revelations caused equal measures of anger and dismay from the distinguished audience of probation watchers that the portals of academia could be so assailed! On my way home, I recalled how organisations can at times excite bouts of blinkered conformity when faced with the dilemmas of practice that challenge established ways of working. 

One such incident when I was a probation officer kept surfacing in my thoughts. I was apprehensive at the prospect of supervising Ian (not his real name) as his prior pattern of offending had represented a high degree of destructive behaviour. He would engage in actions that, whilst starting off as attempts to 'cock-a-snook' at the authorities, often this brought him very close to potentially lethal outcomes. For example, when he stole motor vehicles and was subsequently involved in high speed police chases. On one occasion Ian said he had deliberately crashed the stolen vehicle he was driving, as he sensed that on the next street a school crossing might well be in use! It took a considerable investment in supervisory engagement to change his perspectives from such harmful risk taking behaviour towards more positive and productive lifestyle choices. I shared my supervisory concerns as to Ian's modest improvements in his managed level of risk (this being the calibrator for more resource led decision making) with my line managers. There appeared to be some inkling that Ian, having found employment and stable accommodation, was reaching a pivotal point in his troubled offending career, when the options for staying offence-free might begin to feature as a more enduring aspect of his changing 'offender' identity.

The telephone call I received from a detective, who was investigating a 'serious armed incident' involving Ian, remains indelibly etched on my memory. I was able to establish some basic facts surrounding the alleged incident and provide some broad information on Ian's response to supervision. What completely confounded me was the expressed intent to effect his arrest at the probation office, when he next reported, with an armed response unit, on standby. I agreed to ring back later when I had discussed this planned operation with my acting manager, but I also conveyed the concerns I had with experienced probation colleagues, who shared my opinion that any such arrest should be at the home address (known to the police) rather than at a busy probation office in the middle of the day! Maybe Ian could be persuaded to surrender so that no further harm would be occasioned to him or any innocent bystanders. He rang and remonstrated that he had not been involved in any such incident in the first instance. Realising that I was privy to information about the allegation from the police, he rang off.  I was deeply worried about the implications of such an approach and spent an anxious day or so mulling this over.

I was equally perturbed at what I (and other experienced probation staff at the office) detected had become a palpable shift in local organisational practice. For example, that a number of recalls to prison had been effected on probation premises, when the individual under supervision reported on licence and was then, unsuspectingly and often unceremoniously, arrested in situ and taken into custody to be transported to the nearest local prison. The message appeared to be less a concern for the safety of staff, more an expedient managerial diktat that overlooked the critical importance of ensuring that such safety was also extended to those under supervision (if possible). In the event, Ian took a non-lethal drug overdose, averting what I most feared, a lethal incident at the probation office, and was arrested in hospital. 

He later wrote a letter when on remand awaiting sentence, in it he stated, 'I know that you cared about what happened to me, even though I done wrong, maybe next time I will listen a little harder'.

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One of the more enduring and troubling images in the public imagination, often used in a morally censorious way by sections of the media and politically motivated policy makers, has been that of the 'welfare scrounger'. Listening to a recent over-heated radio debate on this issue, I was reminded of the scene in the 2000 political thriller The Contender in which the actor Gary Oldman (playing Sheldon Runyon) opines, 'people will believe me because I'll have a very large microphone in front of me'.

This brought to mind my supervisory contact whilst working as a probation officer with Roberta (not her real name). I had been allocated a pre-sentence report on Roberta who was due to appear for sentencing at a local magistrates' court for false representation. That is to say, she had legitimately claimed entitlement to social security but had not informed the Department of Social Security (now the DWP) of a change in her circumstances, and as such was being prosecuted. It proved to be a difficult interview, less due to the complexities of the case; prima facie the prosecutorial burden had been proved. But the emotional impact of this prosecution (attempts to arrange repayments without the shame of prosecution proved fruitless) was immediately and distressingly apparent.

The court followed the proposal in the report that a period of supervision was appropriate (on reflection this might well be construed as too onerous given the facts?) and an ancillary penalty known as a Money Payment Supervision Order (usually employed for fine defaults) was imposed. Although Roberta's circumstances remained precarious, she was able to agree that supervisory contact, whilst aimed at reducing the risk of her reoffending, was also an opportunity for her to access the assistance of an able welfare advisor, who offered targeted support with money management. The beginnings of the order seemed to herald a straightforward supervisory experience and Roberta cooperated and appeared to recognise that the shape and frequency of future meetings (home visits included) would be determined by her continuing good progress. What was less apparent at the time was the very real difficulties she began to have in coping financially: a situation made more challenging with the arrival of her first child. The office meetings began to assume a more fraught and unsettled aspect and the modest repayment schedule had to be renegotiated via the court.

What also began to intrude into our discussion was an altogether more testing understanding of her index offence and the emotional attributions that she now felt. 'Disgusted' with herself, Roberta believed that being labelled a 'welfare cheat' was somehow going to irreparably trap her in a 'loser' identity.

The order was concluded successfully and the repayment schedule (although extended) was eventually paid. However, the impact of the prosecution and the fall out from what she perceived as her 'welfare cheat' identity somehow morally excluded from making good on her intentions to lead a 'good life' with her newborn child. It led me to think just how have such stereotypical representations permeated the current deliberations of the future of welfare reform? Of course amongst other things critical attention needs to be given to the intersecting links around class, race and gender.

Roberta shared an insight at one of our supervision sessions in which we looked together at some of the ways she might shake off the emotionally laden 'welfare cheat' identity, which is so powerfully exploited in popular debate, and she said: 'surely a label cannot control me?'.

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