PROBATION WORKS

The aim of PBNI is ‘changing lives for safer communities’ and we are involved at all stages of the criminal justice process. We work in Courts, providing pre-sentence reports to assist judges in their sentencing decisions. We work in communities, supervising sentences that must be served in the community, and we work in prisons, preparing prisoners for release who are subject to licences. We also work directly with victims of crime through the Victim Information Scheme.

“PBNI is committed to delivering restorative practices to change lives for safer communities,” said CEO Cheryl Lamont CBE. “We work closely with the Department of Justice, voluntary and community bodies and recently welcomed the opportunity to contribute to the Department of Justice Adult Restorative Justice Strategy.”

Restorative justice and restorative practice can respond to offending and to those who offend in ways that meet the needs of all of those affected by offending behaviour, victims, communities and offenders. Restorative practices are used by PBNI staff at every stage of our contact with our service users, from referral at court when we are completing pre-sentence reports, during supervision of Probation orders and licences and with those who are serving custodial sentences.

PBNI’s values closely align with the value base of restorative practices; relationships based on respect, inclusion and understanding. We place victims at the centre of our work and have a responsibility to victims to create opportunities to repair harm.

The Probation Board has invested in restorative practices training for staff and believes that well prepared restorative justice and restorative practice carried out by highly trained practitioners has an important part to play in the criminal justice system.

During the consultation period for the PBNI Corporate Plan 2020 – 2023 PBNI engaged with a wide range of individuals and organisations to discuss wider issues as well as strategic priorities. Restorative Justice was mentioned in both written and face to face responses. While the overall feedback from external bodies about the role of PBNI was extremely positive and there was strong agreement for the 5 strategic priorities, a number of responses said there should be a priority or reference to restorative justice and victims. In addition, three staff groups said that it was important to further develop Restorative Practice and enable staff to develop skills in this area.

As part of PBNI’s approach to ‘Restorative Justice’, every individual who has offended is assessed by Probation Officers using a thorough and rigorous standardised structured tool called ACE – this stands for Assessment, Case Management and Evaluation. ACE helps our specialist staff assess the likelihood of the individual reoffending within the next two years, and it also identifies and helps to manage the level of risk. Probation Officers identify and score factors in three different areas; personal, social and offending, and this informs the pathway for each individual’s journey towards rehabilitation. It is also at this stage that Probation Officers can identify certain discriminatory behaviours and attitudes that will need to be addressed through tailoring PBNI’s restorative justice programmes and interventions to suit each individual.

The positive outcomes that PBNI’s work around restorative practice has demonstrated, contributes to the reduction in reoffending, the reduction of further victims in our society, and maximises the opportunities for rehabilitation of the offender within the criminal justice system, to recognise the harm and consequences of their behaviour.

The Restorative Justice approach is utilised in our Victim Information Scheme, which began in 2005, where our staff work with victims and families, facilitating and delivering some very sensitive and difficult interventions with those who have caused them harm.

Within PBNI victims have an opportunity to register with the Victims Information Unit and to receive information about the person who has offended against them, when they may be due for release from custody for example or whether enforcement action has needed to be taken if the individual has failed to comply with their court order. Registered victims also have an opportunity to input into suggesting the type of community service work they would like the service user to undertake by way of making amends and they also have the opportunity to consider taking part in a restorative activity and potentially meet with the person who has offended against them.

The benefits of restorative justice are well known and are supported by research. Restorative justice empowers victims and gives them a voice in the criminal justice process, helping them to understand why an offence has happened and enabling them to move on. For those who have caused harm it gives them an opportunity to hear from their victim, to take responsibility for their actions and make amends.

“What is the harm that has been caused?”

“What are the needs that have resulted?”

“Who needs to put that right?”

“How can we engage people in the process?”

Specialist trained staff deliver restorative interventions across the Service. The use of restorative questions by practitioners with service users allows greater exploration of the offending and promotes understanding of how the victim may have been impacted: and for those who have been harmed the restorative questions enable victims to share their story of the impact of the offence.

“What did you think when you realized what happened?”

“What impact has the incident had on you and others?”

“What has been the hardest thing for you?”

“What do you think needs to happen to make things right?”

“For me restorative practices has changed the way in which I view supervision with offenders. The goal has always been to work with them to avoid further offending and to prevent further victims,” says Michelle Murray Probation Officer Aspire.

At a recent training seminar for new members of staff PBNI’s Victim Information Unit explained how the unit works closely with Probation Officers, Probation Service Officers, Psychology staff and Area Managers to ensure there is a balanced need for both victims and offenders and emphasised the importance of embedding restorative practices throughout the organisation. The training course discussed the Victim Intervention Pack and the value of the Reflective Letter.

One individual who had offended explained that the programmes gave them a chance to reflect, understand and come to terms with what happened. They said:

“They helped me to understand what I was going through; realising the impact of the crime on the victim, realising how bad it was for the victim and their family; and for myself and my family. The face to face sessions helped with my self-awareness. I started to understand the reasons for my offence and the triggers. Now I know that I need to look after my mental health, so that I won’t do it again. Writing a letter to the victim of your crime helps you come to terms with what you did. It helps you heal.”

One member of staff who participated in the recent training commented:

“As a new PSO I will be doing victim awareness work with service users,” said Liz McCormick, PSO, Ballymena. “I feel very strongly that the victim feels in some way that justice is seen to be done and never forgotten in the judicial process. I see that this work will provide the individual who has offended with an insight to their behaviour, and in this regard learn about making better and positive choices in the future, therefore contributing to society and keeping our communities safe.”

PBNI is committed to delivering restorative practices across the range of statutory functions that we deliver, working closely with partners from both the statutory, voluntary and community sectors to deliver interventions for offenders and victims.

PBNI works closely with partner NIACRO, referring anyone who has completed the PBNI ‘Accepting Differences’ Intervention on to their Get Real Project. Get Real takes people who have offended through a restorative process of exploring the harm their actions have caused. This process explores how the victim has been harmed as well as how the person who has offended has been impacted. The process also seeks to provide the opportunity for communication between the parties involved which can also lead to outcomes such as face to face restorative meetings.

One man who was referred to Get Real for assaults on police was able to take part in a restorative conference to hear directly how his actions had caused harm and the impact of this harm.

He commented, “I see the bigger picture now. Have learned to be responsible for my own actions and not blaming others. If I hadn’t, my son would be in care.”

“Restorative practice if appropriately applied can help prevent reoffending and build community confidence,” said Assistant Director Stephen Hamilton.

Restorative Justice Interventions are also delivered, along with our community partners, as a core element of the Enhanced Combination Orders (ECO), which was introduced in 2015. It allows people who have caused harm opportunity to explore the hurt and harm they have caused to their victim and their community and facilitates attempts to repair damage caused by their actions.

The very positive evaluation studies of the ECO have commended the restorative practice work undertaken within this project, recognising the significant contribution such an approach has made on those sentenced to such an Order in the community.

All of our restorative practice within PBNI is governed by the core principles of restorative justice, namely that there needs to be an identifiable victim, it is a voluntary process for all participants, that the person that has committed the offence takes responsibility for their actions and that all parties consent to any restorative process.