No easy life on probation

Janine Hines at the bail hostel in Dewsbury. (d27011208)
Janine Hines at the bail hostel in Dewsbury. (d27011208)

It’s safe, it’s warm, but it’s hardly a five-star hotel.

West Yorkshire Probation Service’s ‘approved premises’ temporarily house offenders from all walks of criminal life, from those subject to community orders to others who have served long jail terms for serious violent crimes.

Tenants are given a bed for the night, two square meals a day and, to various extents, freedom to live their lives, but all under the watch of trained probation officers.

Janine Hines manages the premises in Dewsbury. She said: “We can’t stop people coming out of prison. Our role is risk management and at the core of that is public protection and giving people the means to stop offending.”

There are two approved premises in Kirklees – the other is in Cleckheaton – and two more elsewhere in West Yorkshire, including one for women only.

Daily life for the young men at the Dewsbury premises varies depending on individual circumstances,

All tenants will meet with their link worker at least once a week, or more often if they have just left custody, and also have meetings with their probation officer.

There are regular groups which tenants must attend, covering topics such as alcohol awareness and money management. Some residents have extra groups dealing specifically with their offences or personal issues.

The rest of the time, tenants are encouraged to spend time finding work or training, and accommodation so they are ready to move out of approved premises after 90 days.

They pay their own rent – £42 a week if they are working, £26 if not – do all their own washing, find their own lunch, keep their rooms tidy and stick to the approved premises rules, including any curfews they may have.

All tenants have to be in by 11pm, but others may have extra restrictions. If they are classed as high risk, they might have to report back every two hours.

When a curfew is missed, senior probation officers like Janine can inform the home office and police will be sent out to find the offender and put them back in prison.

“In my experience, it doesn’t take them that long to find them,” she said.

At the Dewsbury premises there is a canteen, a lounge and a pool room, but tenants can’t become couch potatoes.

There are beds for 24 residents, plus a bedroom for staff staying overnight and a spare room for if a tenant is ill and needs privacy.

Some tenants share bedrooms and all share bathrooms with around half a dozen others. All of the bedrooms have bare concrete walls, single beds and a small amount of cupboard space.

The average bed in an approved premises costs the taxpayer £19,400, compared with £45,000 for a prison bed, which is value for money as far as Janine is concerned.

She said: “It’s a safe environment, which is important. It’s an environment where staff support residents and engage them as part of their rehabilitation.

“These offenders are no different to you or I, in that if you build up positive relationships, you are more likely to succeed.”