I am delighted to have been appointed Chair of the Probation Board for Northern Ireland. Probation works at all key stages of the criminal justice process. It works within courts, it works within prisons, it works in the community and with victims of crime.
The role carried out by probation officers is varied and complex, and is developing as understanding increases about the value probation brings to reducing crime and helping make communities safer.
Skilled staff work directly with offenders to tackle the causes of their offending behaviour, enabling them to turn their lives around and, where possible, rehabilitate them back into the community.
Probation officers supervise over 4,000 offenders who are subject to a range of court orders and licences. They prepare reports to assist sentencers and others in their decision making. They provide information to victims of crime through the victim information scheme and Victims' Unit. In each of the prison establishments probation officers provide a social welfare service helping prisoners cope with incarceration, working to positively challenge the prisoner's attitude and behaviour related to offending and helping towards rehabilitation and resettlement and reintegration back into the community.
Probation works. Independent evaluation consistently shows the effectiveness of community sentences supervised by the Probation Board. Three out of four people who received a community sentence in 2007 did not reoffend within one year.
However, we know that in order to be truly effective we must work in partnership. Partnerships with criminal justice agencies, partnership with statutory organisations and partnership with the voluntary and community sector must underpin all that we do.
As Board Chairman my role is to help set the strategic vision for the organisation and ensure it is effective and efficient. One of my strategic priorities will be to help develop and strengthen the partnership element of probation's work. There are already some excellent examples of probation working in partnership making a real difference.
The public protection arrangements, which enable probation to work with colleagues in police, prisons, the Housing Executive, social services and other statutory and voluntary bodies have been cited by the Criminal Justice Inspectorate as leading the way in partnership work in Northern Ireland.
Similarly through the 'Reducing Offending in Partnership' project, probation is working with police and the youth justice agency to deal with priority offenders. The focus is on those people responsible for acquisitive crime and who are damaging neighbourhoods with their continual offending.
The Inspire Women's Project, a partnership project between statutory, voluntary and community organisations and the Department of Justice led by PBNI, is making a difference in ensuring that we deal with women offenders in an appropriate and effective manner.
There are some real opportunities for us to engage in meaningful partnership work, not least through the Policing and Community Safety Partnerships, which will give probation staff a chance to be involved in every local community to help reduce crime.
Partnerships work with the prison service to help implement the recommendations in the Prison Review Team's Report. We want to consolidate and build on the work to date and play our role in enabling the change process in prison.
I am committed as Chair of Probation to developing and empowering staff within the organisation to play their full role in all areas of community safety.
I believe probation has a lot to contribute. I am looking forward to developing this work along with the Board and management of the organisation, to make communities safer.