Filling the gap: can you work better with people who offend?

Wednesday, 17 September 2014 - 8:15am

Working with people who have offended can be a minefield – a balance of understanding the inner workings of the criminal justice system with knowledge of how to motivate somebody who is more than happy to stay just as they are. Amanda Tooth asks how homelessness services can improve the work they do with this group, and how people can be supported to reduce their re-offending and achieve positive goals.

Photograph: IRISS Photo Collection

People who offend are not a homogenous group. Far from it. But they do have specific support needs. How do you deliver person-centred support to somebody whose behaviour is deemed by society to be ‘risky’ and needs to change? Why do some people stop offending whilst others do not?

What really works and what can you do to support them?

Skills gap

It was during my training as a criminologist in the early 1990s that I realised there was a big gap between theory and practice. It was clear that it was practice that I was really passionate about. My first frontline experience was at a large hostel for women offenders in a Kings Cross that was quite different to the area you see today – a heartland of drugs and crime, without a Prêt or Costa in sight. It was while working closely with the homelessness sector, as Housing Development Manager for London Probation, that I realised there was a lack of good quality, practical and relevant training for people who work with people who have offended but where this was not the primary support need.

What is missing?

In my experience, the homelessness sector can play an essential role in the rehabilitation and resettlement of people who have offended. However, staff often lack the basic knowledge needed to ensure that what they do is really effective.

Yes, the criminal justice world is complex. Yes, supporting people who are homeless, but who also have a history of offending, can be even more demanding. But an understanding of the way the system and process works will help to build knowledge and confidence, enabling you to support people more effectively, and to know how to engage with partner agencies when required.

Staff often lack the basic knowledge needed to ensure that what they do is really effective.

The most important thing is to demystify the idea of the ‘offender’, so that they are seen simply as people who have offended. They may have specific support needs but for many their offending behaviour is being addressed by another agency. The key is to know who is doing what and when; and how homelessness professionals can work to support people in partnership with other agencies.

In this sector a little knowledge can really be a good thing.

Filling the gap

When I left London Probation in 2008, after 16 years in the criminal justice system, I set out to develop new training to address these issues, offering homelessness staff the knowledge and skills they need to work confidently and effectively with people who have offended.

I want fill those gaps in knowledge, helping people to see offending behaviour as a specific need that should be met, and understanding the joint role homelessness and criminal justice partners must take on in order to address it.

That was my solution – but what about you? What challenges do you face when working with people who have offended? And what would best help you to support them?

Amanda is Homeless Link’s Criminal Justice Trainer. She’s running a scheduled course – Criminal Justice: Supporting Ex-Offenders – on 9 December in London. Combining her professional experience with applied best practice, it will prepare you to work more effectively with people who have offended, supporting them reduce their re-offending and achieve positive goals.

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Amanda Tooth

Criminal Justice Trainer & Consultant

Amanda is our Criminal Justice Trainer, using her 16 years of frontline experience to help you improve the work you do with people who have offended.