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Feature: The conundrum of dealing with Leeds’s most prolific criminals

Members of the IOM team, from left, Richard Brotton, Melissa Carroll, Clare Wallis, Alistair Dale, and  Andrew Price

Members of the IOM team, from left, Richard Brotton, Melissa Carroll, Clare Wallis, Alistair Dale, and Andrew Price

It is a depressing if perhaps unsurprising fact that ten per cent of criminals are thought to be responsible for 50 per cent of all crime.

Generally they are young men and the crimes they commit are largely “acquisitive” – burglaries, thefts and so on.

Leeds, especially, has suffered at the hands of such offenders, historically having among the worst burglary rates in the country.

Some would say that the solution to the problem is simple – lock those who constantly transgress up and throw away the key.

But since permanent imprisonment is neither practical, given the shortage of prison space, nor economically viable, given the costs of keeping someone behind bars, it falls to those working in the criminal justice system to come up with alternative answers.

The issue is a devilishly complex one to get to grips with. Whether you sympathise with them or not, the behaviour of many revolving-door offenders is driven by deep-seated issues including drug and alcohol addiction as well as pyschological problems.

But a relatively new way of working with those individuals suggests there is cause for optimism.

Integrated offender management – IOM to give it its uninspiring three-letter acronym – has been running for about four years and essentially sees staff from police, probation and associated services like drug and alcohol groups working together to deal with the most prolific criminals.

Major resources are ploughed into trying to understand why they commit crimes and what can be done to encourage them to stop.

Inspector Nick Ireland said: “I get why some people would say, ‘What’s this all about? Get them locked up’. After 18 years in the police I see that.

“But where does it get us? It gets us nowhere, it gets you risking your car being broken into, or coming home from holiday to find your house has been burgled.”

He added: “It’s a bit like care in the community. Offenders are being cared for in the community, because that’s where they’re going to end up living – subject to control measures invoked by probation officers when they come out of prison on licence. There just isn’t enough room in prisons for everybody.”

Insp Ireland runs the IOM hub based at Mabgate Mills in Burmantofts, which is also home to probation officers and drug and alcohol services.

The team that deals with what they call prolific and priority offenders – PPOs to use another acronym – has 300 to 400 criminals on their books at any one time. Currently only two are women.

Many are serving prison sentences and the team’s work begins when they are still inside.

Probation officer Richard Brotton said: “Probation officers will speak to the police, and possibly housing organisations to check out possible addresses that they’ll go to once they’re released to make sure they’re suitable. We can consider putting restrictions on who they associate with and where they can go.

“Probation and police will go to prison to talk to the offender and put a plan in place to manage them safely.”

The ethos is described as “carrot and stick” – providing incentives to persuade them to stop offending along with the threat of penalties if they don’t.

The sweeteners can include things like help finding a job and housing and other perks like gym membership. Assistance is offered to those who have addictions.

If they refuse to comply, however they face having to attend more appointments with probation officers, being subjected to early hours visits from police and, ultimately, a return to a prison cell.

But all of those involved say the key to bringing about a change in behaviour is getting to the bottom of what’s behind that behaviour.

Clare Wallis, from the probation team, said: “I worked in substance misuse when the prolific and priority offender scheme first started and police’s view was that it was very touchy-feely, not what police were traditionally used to doing.

“But unless we know what makes people tick we can’t change it. The beauty of what we’re doing is that we have both the carrot and the stick so we can use both angles.”

Lisa Parker, operations manager for West Yorkshire Probation Trust, added: “What we’re interested in is what works, not whether it’s touchy-feely or hardline but whether it’s reducing crime and crime victims.”

The success of IOM is difficult to determine. For one thing, there is no current measure of success. For another, there are several different factors that might contribute to falling crime and reoffending rates.

But there are indications that it is having a positive impact.

In the last year in Leeds, of the 11,000 offenders, 9.9 per cent went on to reoffend. That was a fall from the reoffending rate of 10.5 per cent in 2009-10 and was ten per cent lower than the predicted reoffending rate.

While IOM deals with only the worst repeat offenders, it is thought to be making a difference.

A 30 per cent drop in burglaries in Leeds last year has been attributed partly to the work of the IOM team.

Last month the inspectorates for both the police and probation service published a report into the work being done in Leeds along with five other areas.

It said: “Our findings about the outcomes... give rise to cautious optimism.”

Ms Parker said: “If you don’t get the small percentage who are creating most of the problems you aren’t going to see a dip in the figures.

“We haven’t found that it’s very successful just to tell people to pull their socks up and sort themselves out.

“We are trying to engage with them smartly about what they think and feel and try to help them achieve the aspirations that will help turn their lives around.”

 

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