A Probation Officer is a qualified social worker who works with a broad spectrum of offenders and their families in courts, the community and prisons. Those we work with range from minor first time offenders to prolific, serious violent/sexual offenders. The purpose of the work of a Probation Officer is prevent reoffending by assessing offenders, challenging their offending behaviour, changing their attitudes and behaviour and thereby protecting the public. Probation Officers also work within the Victims Unit as Victim Liaison Officers and like Probation Officers are required to hold a professional qualification in social work.
A key task of a Probation Officer is the assessment and management of risk.
A Probation Officer must prepare Pre-Sentence Reports (PSR) on offenders appearing before Youth, Magistrate and Crown courts. A Pre- Sentence Report (PSR) is a written report which is prepared by a Probation Officer for Court. The purpose of the PSR is to assist the court in determining the most suitable sentence. A Probation Officer will interview the offender and gather information from a range of other sources – e.g. family, employer or school, and the police. If a person under 18 years is being interviewed, another adult must also be present. The information provided in the PSR includes an assessment of the likelihood of re-offending and, where appropriate, the risk of serious harm. The PSR can make proposals to the court which are considered most likely to reduce the likelihood of re-offending and risk of serious harm and which afford the best protection to the public. For example, if someone has been convicted of driving while disqualified, the Probation Officer might suggest ,as an additional requirement of a Probation Order, that the person attends a particular Probation Programme, which will address this behavior. Other additional requirements may include attendance at an alcohol, anger management or violence programme.
What is a Specific Sentence Report (SSR)?
A Specific Sentence Report (SSR) is an abbreviated form of a PSR which is intended to provide the sentencing court with useful but limited information about a defendant and offence(s) to assist the court in determining a suitable sentence. The SSR helps to speed up the provision of information to assist the court to pass sentence. An SSR is most likely to be used where the court determines that a Community Service Order or a Probation Order (without additional requirements) is the most suitable. The SSR is not suitable for a Youth Court case where a full PSR should always be prepared.
What is a Community Sentence?
The court is responsible for sentencing offenders including the following Community Sentences:
• Probation Order
• Community Service Order
• Combination Order (A probation order combined with community service)
What if the offender is given a Probation Order?
An offender placed on probation is responsible for adhering to the conditions of that order. The Probation Officer monitors the offender’s adherence to the conditions of the order and will report to the court.
How often does the Probation Officer see the offender?
An overall workplan for the offender will be written at the time of the Pre-Sentence Report and agreed with the offender. The Probation Officer will explain to the offender what is expected of them.
What happens if the offender does not keep appointments with the Probation Officer?
In respect of any Order or licence requiring supervision by a Probation Officer, if the person fails to meet their reporting instructions it can result in a return to court. If the rules of the Order or licence are not strictly adhered to, the person will be ‘in breach’ and a warrant will be issued. Whilst subject to Probation supervision offenders will take part in programmes or access resources which are considered most likely to change behaviour and prevent further offending. The range of services are varied and will be tailored to the individual. For some people this will mean intensive supervision requiring attendance at a residential facility or day centre, where the offender will be expected to engage in understanding and looking at ways of changing their behaviour. Others might attend their local probation office to take part in programmes which help them manage their approaches to alcohol/drugs or violence. Many offenders will also be involved in programmes aimed at promoting employment opportunities and/or positive use of leisure time.
What is Community Service?
Offenders subject to Community Service must perform unpaid work (between 40 – 240 hours) for the community. Probation Officers organise what work is to be done and ensure offenders attend and work to standards. The range of work carried out by the offender is varied, for example; assisting at social clubs for older people or people with disabilities, painting and decorating work, gardening and landscaping etc.
Work in prisons
Probation Officers also provide a service in prisons to offenders in custody. A team of Probation Officers are located in each prison in Northern Ireland. In partnership with the Prison Service, programmes are provided for those individuals who wish to look at changing their behaviour and help those preparing for and after release. The Family Links service, also provides a range of services to support prisoners’ families. Most offenders who receive a custodial sentence will be released on licence with conditions which are supervised and enforced by Probation.
Victim Liaison Officer
What is a Victim Liaison Officer?
Victim Liaison Officers are Probation Officer grade and like Probation Officers are required to hold a professional qualification in social work. The role of a VLO is to empower victims of crime and contribute to community safety by providing relevant information about Probation Supervised sentences to victims of crime. PBNI Victim Information Scheme responds to victims’ rights to be kept informed about the Probation Supervised Sentence which the Court has imposed on the offender in their case.
As at January 2011 the PBNI Victims Unit is responsible for three main tasks-:
• The operation of the statutory PBNI Victim Information Scheme (VIS) (CJ Order 2005).
• The preparation of victim reports which are forwarded to the Parole Commissioners of Northern Ireland
• The facilitation of a range of indirect and direct restorative interventions.
Aims of the Scheme
To empower victims’ of crime and contribute to community safety by providing relevant information about Probation Supervised Sentences in a manner which is accessible, understandable, respectful and supportive.
To work in partnership with other Criminal Justice agencies and Victim organisations to provide an integrated service to victims when a Probation Supervised Sentence is imposed.