Real Life Stories

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’s story

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.

Community Service

Gemma’s story

Gemma* was given 80 hours community service for drug charges and had no idea what to expect.

 “In September 2016 my life changed what I thought initially was for the worst, I’d been given 80 hours Community Service on drug charges which had originally came to light from 5 years previous in a very bad time in my life. I came out of Court that day with the fear that my life was ruined. I had to resign from a job I loved and that’s when the anxiety started as the reality of the Court appearance finally hit me – it was the worst experience of my life. When the Judge said I was getting Community Service I didn’t know what was ahead of me I was alien to this environment.

“My first contact was with Carol at the Probation Board, straightaway she explained the process and offered me a placement at Cancer Research charity shop. On my first day I was anxious but the minute I arrived the staff were more than welcoming. I worked 2 full days a week to ensure I got my Community Service hours completed in good time. The more time I spent at Cancer Research I started to get my confidence back and my anxiety became less and less. I had extensive retail experience and being in this shop environment again gave me the buzz of getting back into this line of work again. As I was nearing the end of my Community Service hours the Manager had told me about an upcoming job with the company and encouraged me to apply. Filling in my application I had convinced myself I wouldn’t even get an interview as I was worried my conviction would rule me out of getting any kind of job.

I got an interview and was so delighted. When I went to the interview I had to leave my anxiety at the door if I was to have any chance of getting the job. The interview went brilliant and the next day I got offered the job. After 6 months I was made permanent and one year on I have been given the job of being in charge of our new warehouse facility.

The person I am today is not the person who walked out of the Court house in September 2016 with the help and support from Community Service and encouragement of Cancer Research I’ve finally got my life and career back on track.”

*not her real name

Community Supervision
“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

Reducing offending in Partnership (ROP)

The DOJ (Department of Justice), PBNI (Probation Board for Northern Ireland), NIPS (Northern Ireland Prison Service), PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) and YJA (Youth Justice Agency) have come together to form a partnership aimed at reducing crime and dealing with the most prolific offenders. This partnership is called ‘Reducing Offending in Partnership’ or ‘ROP’.

‘Mark’s progress to date has been considerable’

Mark* is 19 and was placed on the Priority Offenders List following a serious assault and robbery which occurred in 2012. At the time of the assault, Mark was under the influence of alcohol and drugs, and he was increasingly coming before the Courts for offences linked to his misuse of drugs. He had previous  convictions for burglary and theft, criminal damage and possession of ‘Class C’ drugs.

At the time of assault he was in the final stages of an 18 month probation order. Immediately following this he was moved to weekly contact with his probation officer, and continued on this basis until his Order expired at the start of November. From that point forward he has engaged on a voluntary basis through the ROP programme.

A primary focus of his supervision was motivating him to look at his substance misuse which began when he was aged 9. Through one to one work in probation supervision, he has reached the point whereby he has requested a referral to drugs counselling, and has expressed a desire to be free from substance misuse for the first time. He has also undertaken PBNI’s Victim Awareness Programme, and has been able to identify and empathise with the consequences of his offending.

Mark has also engaged with NIACRO’s Jobtrack Programme, and has successfully attained a Forklift Licence to date, as well as having drawn up a CV and disclosure statement to assist with applying for work. He has expressed an interest in further vocational training, and is actively looking at opportunities in this area. The probation officer working with Mark commented:

“As a result of cutting back on his cannabis use, family relationships have improved, and he finds his parents encouraging and supporting him on his current pathway. Mark’s progress to date has been considerable, and there is certainly room for optimism that this will be the turning point for him in building a life free from criminality.”

*Not his real name