Probation staff fulfil a crucial role at Court, and annually prepare around 8,000 reports for court purposes. Probation also supervise people sentenced by the Courts to a community sentence and ensure that the conditions of the court orders are enforced.
One of most common court reports carried out by Probation is the Pre-Sentence Report. The Judge or Magistrate in each court case requires the Probation Board for Northern Ireland to prepare a Pre-Sentence Report to help them make a decision about the most suitable type of sentence.
In order to produce the Pre-Sentence Report (PSR) a Probation Officer will interview the person who has offended and will gather information from a range of other sources, for example; family, employer, school, and the police. If the individual subject to a report is under 18 years old when they are being interviewed another adult must also be present.
The PSR assesses the risk of re-offending and whether that risk could be managed in the community. The Probation Officer offers options to the court which he feels will give the individual the best opportunity either to make reparation, i.e. to give something back to the community, or to address their offending behaviour and lifestyle issues. This will also involve looking at what programmes and support are available in the community.
The PSR is then sent to the court in advance of the case being heard for the Magistrate to examine. In the PSR, the Probation Officer will have outlined a number of options for the magistrate to consider. For example, if someone has been convicted of a violent offence, the PSR might suggest the person attends a particular programme which will address this behaviour. This is known as an ‘extra requirement’ to a Probation Order
Outside of Laganside courts Probation staff attend court on designated days to present breaches or in respect of defendants assessed as Risk of Serious Harm. Information regarding outcomes and requests are conveyed to Probation electronically. Pre-sentence reports are also conveyed to Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Services (NICTS) electronically for the attention of the relevant judges. Probation also meet regularly with NICTS staff to review and refine service delivery to the courts.
Community sentences are supervised by the Probation Board for Northern Ireland. Anyone being supervised is referred to as a Service User and will have a Probation Officer assigned to them to supervise them during their sentence.
Depending on the sentence other Probation staff will also be involved including:
- Probation Service Officers
- Community Service Supervisors
- Probation Psychologists
Sentences may also include conditions such as taking part in Programmes, areas they are excluded from and, where appropriate, that they must live at an Approved address.
The Probation Officer monitors the Service User throughout their sentence and constantly considers the behaviour and attitude of the Service User to assess the risk of any re-offending.
If a Probation Officer considers the Service User to have broken any of the conditions of the sentence, they can refer the Service User back to Court for re-sentencing, which can include a custodial sentence.