‘My job in the justice system’: Hackney probation officer David Stead on helping criminals take responsibility for their actions
- Credit: Lauren Vamplew
Probation officer David Stead tells Emma Bartholomew how he helps reduce reoffending in Hackney – and help people turn their lives around once they come out of prison
Working with murderers, paedophiles and rapists might not be everyone's cup of tea - but David Stead thrives on helping them take responsibility for what they've done.
A probation officer based at a HQ in Hackney, he works with hardened criminals at all stages of the justice system, informing a judge about their social circumstances ahead of sentencing, working on their rehabilitation while they're in jail, and monitoring them in the community on their release.
"I help them find ways to move forward and make changes so harm doesn't take place in the future," said David, who worked on the Isle of Wight before moving to Hackney five years ago.
"It's quite a change coming from there to east London, but what you realise when you work in the justice system is you get crime everywhere."
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The average probation officer has anything from 30 to 50 cases to deal with at any one time, both in the community and in prisons.
"The court environment is often highly emotionally charged, and the real work starts after that," he said. "At the point of sentencing, they're often looking at a very long sentence and that's a huge thing to get your head around.
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"It's only once the dust settles that someone can think about coming to terms with being found guilty and reflecting on the offence in a new light.
"You do often have quite different conversations with people once they reflect on their behaviour and it can happen quickly or years down the line. You work with a whole spectrum, and some hold their hands up straight away while others have been in prison a very long time and don't admit to any guilt. The end goal is trying to get some understanding on how to avoid being in this position again."
David specialises in working with people with personality disorders, who it was previously thought could not be rehabilitated.
"People would be given labels and those labels would stick for a long time and that was quite unfortunate," he said.
"It's a professional relationship, and requires real integrity on the part of the probation officer. You absolutely want the best for that person but you also cannot for a minute lose sight of the fundamental aim which is to prevent further harm and to provide a service of protection.
"There aren't many jobs where you can work so closely with people over such a period of time."