Mental health 'probation priority'
Tackling drug misuse and mental health problems among offenders have been highlighted as key priorities in a new plan on the future of probation services in Northern Ireland.
The importance of securing employment for those trying to avoid the destructive cycle of re-offending was also stressed in the Probation Board NI's corporate plan for the next three years.
Over 70% of the 4,600 offenders under probation supervision in Northern Ireland are considered to have mental health issues or substance misuse problems.
Launching the new plan, Probation Board chair Vilma Patterson said the organisation's new strap-line was 'changing lives for safer communities'.
"Probation works at all stages of the criminal justice system - in courts, in the community, in prisons and with victims of crime," she said.
"PBNI is the lead organisation in helping rehabilitate and resettle offenders in Northern Ireland.
"We are the organisation that supervises the largest number of offenders in the community."
Ms Patterson said there were five main themes in the corporate plan: developing probation practice; engaging with communities; rehabilitation through collaborative working and partnership; criminal justice strategy and policy; and working effectively and efficiently.
"These themes provide the framework to enable us to contribute to community safety in Northern Ireland," she said.
"Committing a crime is always a choice. That's why we in probation are not about excuses or justifications. We are about helping offenders see, that they have different choices. We are about holding them accountable if they make the wrong choices.
"We know that probation works. We want to build on what has been achieved and improve our services further. That is what the people of Northern Ireland deserve."
Justice Minister David Ford said that the Probation Board had made a significant contribution to Northern Ireland.
"I am confident that the Probation Board's corporate plan will continue to build on its work in changing lives in order to make our community safer," he said.
"The plan clearly sets out how the Board is looking ahead with no complacency, as they aim to further improve and expand the services they offer."
He added: "The work of probation is complex and difficult. I want to pay tribute to staff throughout the organisation for their excellent work to date and to wish them every success in the delivery of the plan over the next three years."