Bid to tackle hate crime offenders
Perpetrators of hate crimes in Northern Ireland are to have their attitudes challenged as part of a new probation initiative.
Criminals guilty of hate or prejudice-motivated offences are to go through a programme designed to get to the root of their behaviour.
The tailored intervention aims to reduce the level of the crimes and the number of victims.
The scheme, which will be run by specially trained probation staff, is initially being piloted in north Belfast and Antrim ahead of plans to roll it out throughout Northern Ireland.
As well as challenging prejudices held by offenders, the scheme hopes to promote victim empathy, tackle anger management problems and form strategies to prevent relapse.
The Probation Board of Northern Ireland's acting director Cheryl Lamont said: "PBNI is committed to tackling hate crime in all its forms and has been working with partners to look at how best to deal with the issue.
"This programme, called Accepting Differences, is a first for probation and has been developed in response to an increase in offences motivated by hate or prejudice over the last number of years.
"It has taken on board international best practice and has been designed for the circumstances of Northern Ireland's strategic response to this issue.
"In the past PBNI have dealt with offenders through a range of programmes designed to tackle violent behaviour and distorted thinking but this programme is different. It has been designed specifically to target those who have committed offences motivated by hate or prejudice.
"This is of course only one part of an overall approach by criminal justice agencies to tackle hate crime and the devastation it brings to communities throughout Northern Ireland."
Ms Lamont added: "Highly trained staff will challenge offenders' attitudes and prejudices, as well as showing them how and why their beliefs were formed and how to develop new attitudes to reduce their risk of reoffending.
"There is evidence that, with appropriate training and the right staff in place, it is possible to undo the belief system that an offender may have and so ensure that offending stops. We are hopeful that this intervention will assist in changing lives for safer communities."