While on a visit to observe practices in New York City, Heather Munro, the chief executive of the London Probation
Trust, takes a break to discuss the challenges facing probation in both the U.S. and the United Kingdom and new initiatives,
including experiments in England and Wales with high-intensity community sentence projects (which is also the subject
of a monograph by Centre for Justice Innovation’s director Phil Bowen). November
ROB WOLF: Hi, I’m Rob Wolf, Director of Communications at the Center for Court Innovation and today
we’re focusing on probation. I’m with Heather Munro, who’d visiting New York City this week from London.
She was appointed Chief Executive of London Probation Trust in 2010, which means she’s in charge of probation
for the whole city—about 70,000 offenders a year. She’s in New York City this week, learning how probation and
justice in general is carried out in the U.S., observing several of the Center for Court Innovation’s demonstration
projects. Thanks for joining today.
HEATHER MUNRO: Thank you, it’s a pleasure.
ROB WOLF: So probation at its heart is about keeping offenders accountable without sending them to jail
and if things work out well, probation is also about making sure the offender doesn’t return to offending. But
I know in the U.S. that the probation department sometimes has a hard time because of budget cuts, high case loads,
reduced resources. They have a hard time meeting those goals. I understand that in London, you’re going through
an era of change. You’re probably facing quite a few challenges of your own, and I thought maybe we could start
out by you explaining a little bit about what some of those challenges are and how you’ve been addressing them.
HEATHER MUNRO: Okay, yes. Probation in England is slightly different than in New York because we also deal
with offenders who you would normally call on parole. So we’re dealing with both community orders and parole
orders. We call them licensees.
ROB WOLF: So people who have served time in jail or prison and
are returning to the community.
HEATHER MUNRO: Yes. So we have much more of a sort of holistic—we’re
dealing with some very serious offenders, dangerous offenders who are coming out of custody, as well as the lower
level cases. And having observed New York, I think there are lots of similarities about the challenges we’re
facing. You’re right about the economic pressures, having to do more for less is a—we’ve been going through
cuts over the years but there’s also lots of differences. I think we do probably manage to have more contact
with the majority of offenders, although we are about to trial kiosks, which I know is something that’s been
part of the way they’ve managed the large numbers of cases.
ROB WOLF: Here in New York. In
other words, the offender goes to a kiosk and checks in without actually speaking to a human probation officer.
HEATHER MUNRO: Yes, yes. So we’re looking to trial that approach in a different way, I think maybe
as an incentive towards the end of an order or at a different point. So yes, some challenges around how me manage
the cases. What I’ve noticed is that, so the differences are we have probably more use of an assessment tool,
and our staff probably have more intensive training—probably because of the management of these higher risk offenders.
So it takes about 18 months to qualify. So I think it’s slightly different here.
They go through an 18 month training process after they’ve been hired or prior to being hired?
MUNRO: Yeah, well they are hired on the job, so they start off as a probation service officer and then they can be
trained to become a probation officer, and that takes about 18 months on the job and academic, university work as
well. So there’s quite a lot of investment in those people, I think probably because they are managing some
very dangerous and difficult offenders in the community. But otherwise, I think there’s lots of similarities
with New York probation where I think they’re looking at working much more in the community. We are similarly
looking at how can we get our staff much more out of their offices based in the community. So it’s been fascinating
seeing the work that the Center for Court Innovation—all of those, the problem-solving, and how all of that works,
and the real work around community engagement that’s being done. So certainly one of the things we’ll be
taking back is looking at how we can get more buy-in from the community. But also do people really know what we do?
Similar things, I’m sure here, does anybody understand what it is that probation services do? They’ve heard
of us but do they know what we really do?
ROB WOLF: You had actually written an essay where you
said that there isn’t a lot of public understanding, and because of that lack of understanding, there isn’t
a lot of support for community sentences.
HEATHER MUNRO: Yes. Certainly a big thing in the U.K.
around the credibility. And the debate around punishment, and the care aspect, rehabilitation, and there’s been,
over the years, much more of a focus on the punitive elements of order. In fact, only this week there’s been
an announcement from our Ministry of Justice that every community order, probation-type order, will have an element—they
propose to have an element of punishment in there. So we use electronic monitoring, or it could be fines, or it could
be community service, or community payback. So there is a feeling that the public don’t feel that there’s
enough punishment in orders. Now those of us that work in the system probably think that’s not as accurate because
actually doing a community order can, for many offenders, be much more punishing or challenging than going to prison.
They’ve been in and out of prison, it’s very easy, things are on tap, on hand for them. It’s much
more challenging to actually have to change your behavior. So for those of us who’ve tried to lose weight or
stop smoking or whatever, you know, it’s a really difficult process and that’s what we’re often doing
with people is trying to do some difficult work with them about how to change their behavior.
WOLF: Such as what? Stopping abusing drugs or—
HEATHER MUNRO: Absolutely. Abusing drugs, thinking
differently, domestic violence.
ROB WOLF: And you do have the resources then, because that does
sound—I mean it is called intensive probation. Do you have the resources to be so intensively supervisory?
HEATHER MUNRO: Yes, we do do a lot of the intervention, so there’s a lot of work going into it. So
we run a lot of programs—cognitive behavioral programs, but what we do very much is we base our resources on risk
and need principles. So the higher the risk, and the higher the need, the more resources would go into that, so the
more intensive the work we’re doing. So we also do have people that we’re seeing less often, doing less
ROB WOLF: And then that ties back into your saying that you do an assessment initially,
and that’s how you determine the level of risk and the level of need?
HEATHER MUNRO: Yes.
The assessment is usually done pre-court and it is the basis of all of our work. We call it OASIS and it’s an
ROB WOLF: I noticed you were honorary visiting professor at the University
of Lestor, where you wrote about your interest in research and basing practice on real evidence. And I wondered if
you have been able to incorporate research into the way London Probation conducts business. It sounds like this assessment
tool is an evidence-based practice.
HEATHER MUNRO: Yes it is. I think we’ve found that at
a local level, particularly, it’s been hard to have the resources to do the research that’s needed around
the ways we work. So the one thing we’re doing is trying to build up a greater research capacity within the
trust, but also it’s looking to the evidence that’s done by academic institutions and trying to make sure
our practice is aligned with that. So we’ve done a lot of work around cognitive behavioral groups. We’re
delivering those, but the latest research around assistance theory talks about the importance of the one to one relationships
of offenders being able to see themselves as non-offenders. And so therefore what we’ve done is try to bring
in more peer mentors, more work with people who are ex-offenders so they can see role models there, and try to do
work with our staff around the importance of that one to one relationship.
ROB WOLF: One thing
that I’ve heard about from a colleague of mine, was you were looking at an intensive community order for young gang-involved
individuals. And I know that it builds on the intensive alternative to custody pilots, which our own Phil Bowen,
who directs our London office wrote about—and I’ll link to the paper that he wrote with this podcast, but I
wonder if you can tell me a little bit about why the focus on gang-involved individuals and how that works, how that’s
customized to them.
HEATHER MUNRO: Yes. I mean I think we, first of all, being entrusted in doing
something which is more responsive and different for the younger age group. We deal with people over 18, but the
18-24 year olds, having something that looks different, not that one size fits all approach. When you’re 18
you become an adult and you get the typical adult sentence. And in London the whole problem of gangs is an issue.
It’s a priority for our mayor and the police and for us. So we wanted to help with that, so that’s what
we’re hoping to do, and we’ll start talking to sentences shortly.
ROB WOLF: You started
off a little bit referring to some of the lessons you think you’ll be taking back from New York with you, about
community engagement, for example. Are there any other lessons that come to mind?
Yes. We feel that there’s a lot here around, that’s being done around immediacy, doing things much quicker,
and so we want to look at how we can try and speed up some of the ways in which we are picking people up at court,
working with some very impressive things—like in Brownsville—and others where we’ve seen, where people are seen
quickly and dealt with. So that’s one aspect. I think a more flexible approach, so that it was interesting how
certainly the judge at Red Hook was able to give very flexible sentences.
ROB WOLF: At the Red
Hook Community Justice Center? Judge Calebrese?
HEATHER MUNRO: Yes. And that was great. I really
enjoyed that visit. Also, I think this accountability bit. I think what we’ve seen here is the focus on holding
offenders or clients to account for what they’ve done, and coming back regularly, the reviews, it doesn’t
happen so much. We have some work around that with our drugs courts, but it’s not a routine as I think we could
make it, particularly with the intensive alternative to custody. That’s an option we’ve now thought about
looking at how can we hold people to account at regular intervals.
ROB WOLF: Well great. It sounds
like you’ve had a productive week.
HEATHER MUNRO: We’ve had a great time.
ROB WOLF: I’ve been speaking with Heather Munro, who is visiting New York from London. She is the Chief
Executive of London Probation Trust. I’m Rob Wolf, Director of Communications at the Center for Court Innovation.
Download our podcasts from our website at www.courtinnovation.org and from iTunes. Ms. Munro, thank you so much for
taking the time.
HEATHER MUNRO: Thank you.