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)

Michael’s story.

Michael (not his real name) was sentenced in October 2015 to an Enhanced Combination Order for drug offences.  As part of that order he is being supervised by a probation officer for 18 months and must carry out 100 hours of unpaid community service.

Michael has been using drugs since he was 16 years old and since that time has been convicted of several offences. In his own words he tells how he ended up within the criminal justice system: “I didn’t have a very good childhood and a lot of my behaviour stemmed from witnessing abuse among family members.

“I was 12 years old when I turned to drugs to escape.  At this stage my school work suffered, I started hanging around with the wrong people and getting into trouble.  Selling drugs seemed like an easy way to make money.

“I tried on occasions to change my lifestyle but it was difficult. I had short spells in prison but in 2015, having been sentenced to four months in custody, I made a decision that I wanted to change my life.

“From the start of the Enhanced Combination Order I got support and I wanted to take the opportunity to make a positive change in my life.

“I attended the community addiction team as part of the order and through that got the motivation to stay off drugs.

“I also worked with Barnardos and that really gave me a better understanding of how my kids feel and helped me take responsibility for my actions.”

Michael also completed some restorative work and said that helped him understand ‘his actions were about more than just me, there were victims’.

After six months being supervised by probation, Michael said: “Probation has changed my life by signposting me to the right services.

“I know I can lift the phone now and get help and support and that in turn, has helped me be more positive about my life. Probation has helped me manage my problems .”

Since starting this order Michael has completed all his community service, and fully complied with his order.

His probation officer believes his future is much brighter.

Reset Project - Mentor

A day in the life of William.

William is a Mentor with the Reset Programme, an intensive support service for people transitioning from custody to the community whilst supervised on licence by PBNI. Reset supports people to address a range of issues, including accommodation, employment/training, money management, family issues, addictions and other factors affecting effective resettlement. It is delivered through a new partnership between PBNI and NIACRO and is funded by The Northern Ireland Executive Change Fund.

MONDAY 9.00am
Check diary for today’s schedule. Have a number of appointments starting in Portadown. My first appointment is a tripartite with John and his Probation Officer at the hostel in Portadown. I first met John in Maghaberry a month ago when he was referred to the Reset programme by his prison based Probation Officer. I discussed the  support that the programme could offer and he agreed to engage. At that time I referred John for benefits advice and an appointment had subsequently been made with the local Jobs and Benefits office later that day. I had collected John from Maghaberry on Saturday and transported him to the hostel. On the day I found that although happy to be out of prison, he was quite anxious about what lay ahead, especially how he might get access to the medication that he was taking for anxiety as he was only discharged with a week’s supply.

John’s tripartite: met the Probation Officer and John together and discussed what we were planning to do. John’s Probation Officer made sure that he was aware of his licence conditions and the curfew times with the hostel. I advised that we had an appointment with the Jobs and Benefits Office (JBO) at 10.30 to claim for Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) and after that we would be going to register with a GP. Agreement was made to keep the Probation Officer informed of our progress.

I accompanied John to the JBO to make a claim for JSA. As John did not have photographic ID or an account, this prevented his claim from being processed immediately.  This perceived knock back made John quite anxious and we made arrangements to get his ID and took steps to re-opening an old Post Office account that he had prior to being in

I took John to a local GP to get registered and to get a prescription for his medication. After doing this, I found that John was a lot less anxious and after taking him back to the hostel we parted company, though I agreed to check back in with him later that day.

My next appointment is with Joe in Armagh. Joe was released from Magilligan six weeks ago and has been resettling well with the support of Reset, albeit in a new area to him where he is feeling quite socially isolated. He is having issues around seeing his children,  one of whom he hasn’t seen in a number of years. Having just met up with Barnardo’s the week before, I call my contact there and we have now organised for my client to meet both Barnardo’s and his Probation Officer, and we will begin a process which will help him with meeting this particular child and overcome the time gap and rebuild relationships. Having updated Joe, I grab a bit of lunch and move on to my next appointment in Dungannon.

Meet with Michael at a coffee shop in Dungannon. Michael was released from Hydebank 4 weeks ago and had been living with his mum until last week, when he moved into his own private rented accommodation. I had helped Michael move in and source some furniture and essential items. Michael’s next goal is to try and find employment. We agree a number of short term actions including preparing a CV and a statement of disclosure, and we will discuss training/education opportunities when we meet next.

Reset Project - Mentee

“RESET has been life changing”

Simon spent 10 months in custody and was released on licence. He was one of the first offenders to be supervised through the new RESET mentoring project. He outlines the benefits of the project:

“When I came out of prison I was really worried about not being able to find employment. My mentor was William and he has been very supportive in helping me take steps back into employment. He helped me write a disclosure letter to future employers which is something I was really concerned about. He has also helped me access training and write a CV. William also works closely with my probation officer which was important.

I have no doubt that RESET will help me stay out of custody. When you surround yourself with positive people it gives you a more positive outlook. This project is fantastic. The support and encouragement I have received has been so important. I won’t be going back to custody. I am determined to stay away from crime. I would go as far as to say RESET has been life changing for me.”

Community Service

“The good work of Community Service should be recognised”

Each year offenders deliver an average of 175,000 hours of unpaid work to the community in Northern Ireland through a community service sentence. Some examples of community service work are environmental and conservation projects, painting and decorating, contributing to community cleanups, working in animal shelters or assisting disabled people. The Community Service sentence enables offenders to pay back to the community for the harm they have caused. The work is either under the guidance of our supervisor or staff in the host organisation.

One of the beneficiaries is the Holy Trinity Primary School, Cookstown and the Principal stated that, “The good work of Community Service should be recognised as they have been extremely important in the work within our school. Work is completed on Saturdays, and always to a high standard. We would like to thank probation for this work, which would otherwise not be completed due to budget constraints.”

Acknowledging the work done by Community Service at the Church of Ireland in Greenisland, Reverend Paul Lyons said: “The support of the PBNI Community Service team has made a positive difference to our Church. The quality of the work completed is outstanding and the respect shown by the men working here is impressive. I am very grateful for the assistance and that they will continue to help the Church community in
the future.”

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