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Probation Service introduces PEPS courses 8 August 2008

David Sellick - Chief Probation OfficerOFFENDERS are returning to the classroom to learn new skills aimed at keeping them out of trouble.

PEPS courses organised by the Isle of Man Probation Service are proving to be an effective way of achieving change and preventing repeat offending. Behavioural science is at the heart of the initiative which is focussed on equipping people with the ability to make better choices in their lives.

PEPS stands for Problem solving, Effective thinking, Perspective taking and Social skills and the courses run on a nine-week cycle at Prospect House in Douglas. Group sessions involving up to eight people explore the triggers that lead to offending behaviour and highlight ways of tackling those issues. PEPS courses, which are delivered by a Probation Officer and Probation Service Officer, are developing into an important part of the Island’s judicial process.

Courts can order offenders to attend the programme as part of their sentence. Failure to adhere to the condition can result in the offender being brought back before the courts. Suitable candidates are identified when referred for a social enquiry report and are expected to attend all nine weekly sessions, each lasting two hours.

Research and experience has shown there are common cognitive behavioural features of people who commit offences. PEPS-style schemes undertaken in prisons and in the community have been successful in altering behavioural patterns by teaching thinking skills, problem solving strategies and impulse control. The Isle of Man programme, which falls under the umbrella of the Department of Home Affairs, was launched earlier this year.

It introduces new skills each week and group members complete homework to show they have understood the content. Impulsiveness is a common thread in offending behaviour patterns and the probation officers highlight strategies to slow down the decision-making process, to process information effectively and to generate alternative solutions. The nine weekly sessions go on to explore how emotional thinking, jumping to conclusions and the need for immediate gratification can lead to people breaking the law.

Group members are taught to put feelings and situations into perspective through moral debates and role-play before going on to consider the dangers of passive and aggressive behaviour. Assertiveness, listening skills, negotiation and compromise are also covered in the programme which is becoming an effective sentencing option for the Manx courts.

Chief Probation Officer David Sellick said:

‘An important part of probation work is helping offenders to achieve change. Change can, however, be uncomfortable, difficult and even frightening. Individuals are most likely to change when they themselves decide to do so and appreciate the part they played in creating their problems.'

Probation officer Elaine Stott added:

‘Our job is to help them understand how the problems are created and also to give them the courage, confidence and skills to believe they have the power within themselves to achieve change. The challenge for the group members is to put these new skills into practice until they become good habits.’

Because people learn at different rates further reinforcement of the PEPS message can be provided on a one-to-one basis over the remainder of a supervision order. Feedback from group members has been extremely positive.

Comments include:

‘PEPS has calmed me down and makes me stop and think. It has made me realise how passive I have been and let people walk all over me. The sessions on passive/aggressive behaviour have really helped. PEPS has helped me look at life differently and taught me to how to improve it.’

Those who complete the programme receive a certificate to prove their commitment and provide evidence of a positive outcome to the supervision period.

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