Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 27 November 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

What should Probation Board do in the future?

You cannot reduce the impact of crime by operating in a vacuum. That's why the Probation Board for Northern Ireland wants your input into its next three-year plan, says Vilma Patterson

Vilma Patterson, chair of the Probation Board for Northern Ireland (PBNI)
Vilma Patterson, chair of the Probation Board for Northern Ireland (PBNI)

What role has the Probation Board in making communities safer? How does probation best prevent re-offending? Why is probation key to the overall effectiveness of the criminal justice system?

These are some questions we have considered as we embark on developing a strategic vision for the Probation Board for Northern Ireland (PBNI) for the next three years.

This week, we are launching a consultation on our corporate plan, the blueprint for how we will do business over the next three years.

We are keen to hear from the public and the community, voluntary, statutory and business sectors about how probation can build on its achievements and continue to help prevent reoffending.

PBNI works at all stages of the criminal justice system – at court, in the community, in prisons and with victims of crime.

We, therefore, bring a unique perspective to community safety. We see offenders at the beginning of the criminal justice process, through preparation of pre-sentence reports for courts, and we work with many of them when they leave custody, sometimes after years in prison.

We can see the impact of crime and offending upon families, individuals, communities and, most importantly, upon victims.

We understand the need for a joined-up approach to dealing with offending. We know that if one part of the criminal justice system isn't working, it impacts on every part.

We know that you cannot reduce crime by operating in silos, so partnership is key to how probation will work in the next three years.

We have already developed strong partnerships at a local level, through the Policing and Community Safety Partnerships and through the provision of programmes and services within the community grants scheme. But we can build on that.

There are opportunities for probation to work in the heart of communities, to develop local dialogue, where we can build awareness of what we do and listen to concerns and issues affecting local areas.

Probation staff have also identified opportunities for criminal justice organisations to work more closely and PBNI will seek to develop those opportunities, building on the work within the public protection arrangements and reducing offending in partnership and strengthening partnerships to provide information to victims of crime.

Like everyone, we are operating in a challenging financial environment with finite resources. But in comparison to other jurisdictions, probation in Northern Ireland costs less. We also know from research that, through our work, we have a lower level of reoffending than other jurisdictions in these islands.

There are a number of reasons for that. Within Northern Ireland, we pride ourselves on having a diverse and professional workforce.

All our probation officers are social work-qualified, trained in assessing and managing risk and regulated by a professional body.

We have a range of staff supervising community-service squads, helping offenders to pay back and be reintegrated into the community.

We have excellent staff in programmes in prisons, in the victims' unit and in support functions, who are trained and developed to the highest standards.

We are also continuously striving to look at new and more innovative ways of working. Over the next three years, we will consider how technology and latest research can help prevent people reoffending and ensure fewer victims of crime.

I continue to be inspired by probation staff I meet every day. They directly hold offenders to account.

They are dedicated to protecting the public and raising awareness about issues, such as child protection and domestic violence. They are making a real difference every day to individuals and communities.

During this consultation, we want to hear the public's views on how probation can work more effectively and we want to have honest conversations about making communities safer.

If you would like to respond to the consultation, please e-mail me at consultation@pbni.gsi.gov.uk.

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