An independent inspection report on how the Probation Board for Northern Ireland (PBNI) supervises offenders within the community has found that on many occasions the standards applied in Northern Ireland exceed those in place in England and Wales.
The inspection, undertaken by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) with support from colleagues from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Probation in England and Wales (HMI Probation), is the first comprehensive review of probation practice to be conducted by the Inspectorate.
"Supervising offenders in the community represents a significant proportion of the overall work of the probation service which is carried out by probation officers and probation service officers across the whole of Northern Ireland," said Brendan McGuigan, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
"As a small number of these offenders continue to pose a significant risk to the community following their release from prison, it is essential that they are supervised effectively to support their rehabilitation.
"The inspection showed the PBNI to be an effective organisation which understands and accepts its role in delivering public safety and reducing reoffending," he said.
Mr McGuigan added that it was reassuring to note that probation practitioners were usually doing all they reasonably could to minimise the risk of harm to the public.
As part of the inspection, a case review of 100 cases where individuals were being supervised within the community, was carried out by CJI and HMI Probation Inspectors supported by PBNI area managers who were trained as assessors.
Probation practice was evaluated to establish how often specific areas of work such as risk of harm assessments, likelihood of reoffending assessments and compliance and enforcement work reached the level of quality sought by the Inspection Team.
Inspectors were pleased to find that in each of the three key areas, the PBNI was found to exceed the average percentage scores for similar work carried out in English and Welsh probation regions, for example in relation to likelihood of reoffending assessments and for compliance and enforcement work.
CJI also found the PBNI's Best Practice Framework and Northern Ireland Standards to be an effective, well utilised document that clearly set out the expected approach to practice.
Staff indicated they felt positive about the leadership and management of the organisation with managers skilled to fulfil their responsibilities and the organisation supportive of staff training and development needs.
Inspectors also found evidence of positive and supportive working relationships between offenders and those involved in supervision work, with probation staff clearly committed to assisting people to move away from offending.
In conclusion Mr McGuigan said: "This is one of the most positive reports that CJI has produced on any criminal justice agency since it was established in 2004. It is a testament to the hard work and commitment of the leadership and staff within PBNI that it has developed its practice in the area of community supervision to such high standards.
"Probation can be rightly proud of what they have achieved, and yet they will be the first to recognise that they cannot afford to be complacent in their challenge of keeping us safe and reducing offending. Therefore this inspection report makes three recommendations designed to further reduce risk and deliver practice completeness."