Probation officers have been forced to change the way they work to accommodate Bermuda’s growing gang culture.

Court services staff often have to visit offenders at alternative sites because men known to gangs are too scared to cross into rival territories.

Others with gang affiliation dare not venture to the probation offices in Victoria Street in Hamilton for their own safety.

Probation officers have resorted to conducting home and site visits in pairs.

Officers say they are dealing with more high-risk offenders and criminals who have committed more serious crimes than ever before.

And they have been forced to adapt they way they work to offer those affiliated with gangs the best service.

Arthur Douglas, who runs the Assessment and Treatment Unit, told the Sun Bermuda gang culture had made the job much more “challenging”.

He said: “We are seeing the extent of gang violence in our every day work. The gang violence has given rise to crimes which we have not had to deal with before.

“Violent crimes committed by people involved in the gang culture have risen and so have the drug related crimes.

Mr. Douglas added: “Men affiliated with certain gangs are worried about crossing other gangs’ borders.

“We are increasingly having to do alternative site visits as a result.

“It’s very difficult for people on probation to keep appointments when they are worried about crossing certain territories and running into rivals at Court Services.

“We always encourage our officers to go in twos when they visited someone at home – now it is required.”

Protection

Mr. Douglas told the Sun that often the first thing those associated with gangs were worried about was protection and their own safety.

He said that some suspected offenders would rather be remanded in custody that remain in the community.

He added: “The general attitude of many of these guys in gangs is they want some kind of protection.

“Some want to be protected in the police station for as long as they can.

“Others are worried there is a hit out on them and are more co-operative with our officers.

“It seems the gang culture permeates all levels of society.

“Probation officers are having to change the way they work in order to deal with dangerous situations.”

Tiffanne Thomas is in charge of a team of five probation officers that enforce curfews and ensure the supervision of convicted offenders.

At present there are around 375 offenders on probation or subject to conditional discharges in Bermuda and each officer has a caseload of around 35.

In 2009 probation did 472 home visits to ensure offenders were abiding by the terms of their orders.

Ms. Thomas said the current climate had forced her officers to be “creative and more forceful” with those on probation.

She added: “It is challenging at the moment.

“We have to be creative in our approach.

“Some people have such unstructured lives that we have to be more forceful and creative in getting our message across.

“No longer can we just send a warning letter – we have to do it face to face now.

“There is often a lack of regard for the potential consequences of their actions.

“Some people may see probation as a safe option and not really want to change the way they think because they have never had that structure.

“It is important for us to be consistent.”