The Probation Board for Northern Ireland has collated the following real life stories which we hope illustrate our work. Click on any of the links below to see an example of probation at work.
Enhanced Combination Order (ECO)
David* was sentenced to an Enhanced Combination Order of 2 years with 100 hours Community Service in January 2017. Now, over half way through his Order, he reflects on his experience of Probation and how he has been supported by multiple partner agencies and services to make positive changes in his life.
David was 58 at the time of his offence. He recalls that his life up until that point had been characterised by chronic alcohol misuse and involvement in offending. He had only engaged with addiction support on one previous occasion at the age of 30 which involved a period of time in inpatient rehab however David relapsed within a week of discharge. Over time, life became more difficult as alcohol misuse became more prominent in his life. In 2017, he appeared before the court in relation to an incident of driving whilst unfit through drink, driving whilst disqualified, no insurance and assault/obstructing Police.
David’s Enhanced Combination Order sentence also included the additional requirements to participate with Alcohol/Drug counselling and treatment programme and to attend the Thinking Skills Programme.
Whilst on Probation, David was referred to addiction counselling programmes, including Alcohol and You and Dunlewey, with support from his GP and Probation; David was then able to address his alcohol misuse and engage with relapse prevention work. David remains abstinent with support from his partner and ongoing Probation supervision.
As part of his Order, David took the opportunity to engage with psychology for one to one weekly sessions which focused on his mood and self-worth and explored the cognitive and behavioural techniques that would challenge negative cognitions and increase pro-social behaviours. David identifies that the positive working relationship he developed with his psychologist allowed him to engage openly with the work and gain belief in his own ability to make better choices in the future. David also attended the Thinking Skills programme and felt that he benefited from the group work aspect of this intervention through positive exploration of shared experiences and peer support.
David believes that the support gained from his current Order has helped him change his life for the better. “The Enhanced Combination Order has given me the chance to stay in the community and get help from the right people. It has done me the world of good. I am happier and more contented with my life and feel like I have become the man my partner deserves.”
David continues to engage positively with the Order and believes he will not reoffend in the future.
* Not his real name.
Susan* was sentenced to an 18-month Combination Order comprising 100 hours Community Service. She engaged in one-to-one offence-focused work with her Probation Officer and included victim awareness.
Unfortunately after over 40 years on this planet I made a wrong choice and thought with my heart and not my head which led me for the first time in my entire life to come before the courts where I was sentenced to an 18 month Combination Community Order.
To say I was broken as a person is an absolute understatement!! By the time I had my first meeting with my Probation Officer I had been publicly shamed in every way possible via every possible media outlet. I had contemplated ending my life. I was seeing my GP twice a week and under the care of the Acute Care at home mental health team. I was in a very very dark place. I did not leave the house or go into shops as I did not want to face people.
During my first appointment with my Probation Officer I could not even speak I was so distraught but she took time with me and provided a safe space whereby I felt I could open up. I was also introduced to the Community Service Support Worker who would oversee my community hours to be completed. As I had a terminally ill father, a child with special needs and health problems myself the support worker was able to source a placement that would enable me to continue with my caring responsibilities. This made such a difference to me and my situation as it showed although I had broken the law and must receive my punishment to pay back to society I was treated like an individual not just a case reference.
Throughout the 18 months I had regular meetings with my Probation Officer who was amazing!! She supported me in my very dark and distressing first months of my journey of self-reflection and we explored the rationale for the choices I made. In time I felt my stronger and began a journey of improving my life and health. During those initial months into my probation I would never have dreamed I would go to leisure facilities never mind enjoy them but my probation officer always encouraged me to push the boundaries and keep trying. At the beginning I thought I would never work again in my life as who employ me but again my probation officer kept encouraging and pushing me to get my life back on track.
By the end of my 18 months I was truly a different person in every way. I had repaid to society but above all I had learned so much about myself and I honestly believe this was partly due to my journey with probation.
In concluding, I am so happy to say I am back in full-time employment which I never believed I would be, I am also 100% sure that if I was faced with the same decision again I would definitely not make the same choice and will always think with my head and not my heart and that is to totally due to the journey I had with my probation officer.
I entered my probation journey a broken person who thought my life was over and made bad decisions using my heart and not my head to a stronger person who will never be the same again but I now realise that is positive thing as it means I will never be before a court again.
* Not her real name.
“Probation has given me the chance to have a future with my children”
Paul* received a Determinate Custodial Sentence which consisted of an 18 month custodial phase and 24 months on licence.
This is Paul’s story. Paul experienced an unsettled childhood which led to him leaving the family home around the age of 15. He led a transient lifestyle and began using illegal substances as a way of coping and escaping his feelings. Paul quickly became involved in the supply of illegal drugs and gained an extensive criminal record. He believed he would never change his way of life; that it was out of his control.
“It has been just over a year since I was released from prison and I remember coming to the probation office on that first day thinking ‘this will do nothing for me’. I was wrong. This has been a tough year and at times I have felt like giving up but with the support of my probation officer I have not and now, when I look back, this has been the most positive year in my life. Probation has helped me accept my past and understand that I can change.
Probation gave me the motivation to set myself goals and to tackle my problems. I don’t take drugs anymore. I don’t want to take drugs. I have just passed my driving test and am legally on the road for the first time in my life.
Most importantly probation has helped me to mend relationships I thought I’d lost. I enjoy spending time with my family. I have contact with my children and I think now I have become a better person I can be a good Dad. I have a future with my children. I thought I’d lost that chance.
I am not proud of the things I have done in the past. But I am proud of the progress I have made. A year ago I did not think I would ever achieve anything to feel proud of. I’m not constantly looking over my shoulder now. I am moving forward”
*Not his real name
Work with Victims
“Anne was able to get direct answers to questions which had not been answered before”
Everything PBNI does is about preventing people becoming victims of crime. However staff also work directly with victims through the co-located Victims Unit and Victim Information Scheme. Below is an example of some of the work that takes place in the Victims Unit through engagement in restorative practices.
Anne* whose son died in a car crash, took part in an indirect shuttle mediation process with her son’s friend who was charged with causing death by dangerous driving. This enabled Anne to get answers to questions about the circumstances of the death which the court process had not answered. Both she and the offender on supervision agreed that this exchange of information, through a PBNI victim liaison officer, helped them deal with some of the difficult issues surrounding their son / friend’s death. The offender said his motivation for being involved in a restorative intervention was to try and resolve some of the issues resulting from the harm he had caused. Anne was able to get direct answers to questions which had not been answered before, which helped her.
*Not her real name
Reflective Letter to a Victim of Crime
“I would like to write this letter of apology to my Victim’s family to say how sorry I am for all I have put you through.
I am deeply sorry for all the hurt and pain I have caused you.
I know saying sorry will never be enough for all the hurt I have put you through. I can’t imagine what you, as a family, have had to go through to this day.
I realise my actions have had an effect on a lot of people. I sincerely regret this. I do regularly attend probation to do what is asked of me and keep all my appointments and have also done offence related work.
I just want you to know I am deeply sorry for everything.”
Feedback from People who completed their sentence
A Community Service Supervisor received a lovely message of appreciation from someone who completed their Community Service sentence. Our staff treat all with Dignity and Integrity to Change Lives for Safer Communities.
"I never gave up because you made me believe in myself. A lot of people look at you funny and treat you different when you have a record. But you never did. So you should be proud of yourself because you are changing people's lives with how you treat them."