Insight into criminal minds

As a probation officer it's Karen's job to supervise some of the thousands of offenders in the community who are subject to court orders. Picture: Phillip Biggs

As a probation officer it's Karen's job to supervise some of the thousands of offenders in the community who are subject to court orders. Picture: Phillip Biggs

Working with sex offenders, killers, drug addicts and general lawbreakers might not be everyone's ideal career. But for one Launceston probation officer the past 19 years has been a fascinating insight into the human condition. Police reporter PATRICK BILLINGS finds out why.

UNDERSTANDING what makes a person tick is at the heart of a job that a probation officer, who we'll call Karen, loves.

"It's just fascinating and I guess it's because of the people you're working with," Karen said.

"Seeing people make changes in their life when these attitudes and behaviours in a lot of these guys are quite entrenched.

"I just love working with them to try and change those attitudes so they can make their lives better and their kids' lives as well."

As a probation officer it's Karen's job to supervise some of the thousands of offenders in the community who are subject to court orders.

It's a job that Tasmania does well.

The latest report on government services reveals Tasmania had an 85.5per cent completion rate for community correction orders in 2012-13, the highest in Australia.

Broken down, the figures show completion of probation and parole is the highest in Australia and completion of community service orders is third highest.

Director of Community Corrections Pamela Honan said the results reflect a dedicated staff and improved programs.

Mowing grass might have passed as community service in the past, but training opportunities are more the norm these days.

"By doing that I think what you do is give people not just routine but also something that gives them a strong sense of value - which helps with breaking the cycle," she said.

Karen agrees probation has changed with the times.

Issues like mental health, family violence and drug abuse aren't new, but the approach to them is.

"The offenders that we are dealing with are becoming more and more complex - that's probably one of the biggest challenges with what we are doing at the moment," she said.

Forming a relationship with offenders on probation - some for up to 15 years - is "critical" for a good outcome.

So how does she deal with people on a daily basis whose behaviour might otherwise disturb her?

"You've got to separate the offence from the person," she said.

"I did a social work degree and it's very much about respecting the individual and we're here to help them make changes to their life.

"Once you get that rapport with them things tend to unfold from there and you can do some really good work.

"It's that fine balance between helping the offender and reducing the risk of them offending but also being accountable when having to breach them if we need to, and report them to the parole board and they may end up back in prison."

An average day for Karen is talking to the courts and parole board, meeting different offenders and referring them to services. But it can all change at the drop of a hat.

"You never really know what you're going to get, it's fascinating really," she said.

"You might just have someone on a stealing offence, or from drink-driving through to assault through to sex offending, or on parole for murder. So it's very diverse."

And changing their behaviour is for the good of everyone - "for them, their family, the community, everyone".

The probation officer's name was altered due to the sensitive nature of her work.

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