Inspectorate welcomes progress on recommendations to improve Probation Board's Community Service scheme
A follow-up review of the Probation Board for Northern Ireland's (PBNI's) Community Service scheme has found the organisation has worked diligently over the last three years to address the spirit of recommendations made by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) in its original inspection report.
Inspectors found that eight of the 15 recommendations had been fully achieved with a further six partially achieved when they revisited this area of the PBNI's work. One further recommendation was assessed as no longer relevant.
"In 2010 Inspectors found the work undertaken as part of the PBNI's Community Service scheme was positive, socially useful and of benefit to the community," said Brendan McGuigan, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
"This review found that in the intervening period, the community service workload had increased significantly with almost 250,000 community service hours provided during 2011-12 which is worth over £1.5m when calculated against the National Minimum Wage rate of £6.19 per hour."
Mr McGuigan said Inspectors were pleased to see the effectiveness of the Community Service scheme had improved in terms of its direct impact on offenders.
"Inspectors had recommended the PBNI should increase the level of offenders commencing work within 10 days of a Community Service Order being made and the average number of hours worked. The PBNI was also urged to improve the number of offenders complying fully with their Community Service Orders," said the Chief Inspector.
"This follow-up review found that positive steps had been taken by the Probation Board in respect of each of these areas with 18% more offenders now commencing work within 10 days of their Community Service order being made when compared to 2010."
The PBNI also succeeded in increased the average number of hours worked by offenders engaged in community service, with 99% of community service offenders instructed to work more than five hours per week by the PBNI. Where this was not achieved, the contributing factors and reasons were almost exclusively related to issues beyond the PBNI's control such as an offender's sickness, an unexplained absence or an individual being returned to custody.
Commenting on the findings of the follow-up review, Mr McGuigan concluded: "Overall this has been a very good response to our original inspection, once again reinforcing our view that the Probation Board take their work seriously and strive for excellence. More importantly they continue to improve the co-operation of offenders and in doing so make us all safer.
"The increase in the number of offenders undertaking community service is to be welcomed and is a tangible result of the investment by the PBNI in delivering suitable alternatives to custody.
"The value of offenders undertaking unpaid work as reparation for their offending should not be under-estimated and the Community Service scheme has potential to deflect many more people from custody when they do not pay fines," said Mr McGuigan.