At one end of a conference table, the judge, with humanity and firmness, asks whether she will find results from the drug testing that will make her happy. The service user directly opposite her haltingly says yes and then says that she may find some results showing he is still using cocaine. Through the discussion, it becomes clear that the service user has dramatically cut down on his drug use. The probation and treatment team around the team are able to provide further evidence of his good progress as the service user makes steps toward sobriety.
In a different meeting room, only a few streets away, a service user explains how the new Enhanced Combination Order he is on has stopped him going to jail and helped him focus on being a better father to his wee girl. The probation team talk about how the Enhanced Combination Order gives them the tools they need to provide an effective community supervision regime to help people move away from crime.
Over the other side of the province, we hear a probation officer talk about the work they are doing for men who have been identified as having the potential to be abusive in intimate relationships, providing the participants with skills and tools to promote positive behaviours in their intimate relationships.
These glimpses of effective, evidence-informed practice were merely some of the highlights of our three days with the Probation Board in Northern Ireland at the end of September. We are delighted that our map of innovative practice now boasts a number of case studies from there and from Scotland.
It may be surprising to some but it is clear to me that some of the leading edges of justice innovation in the UK are to be found in Northern Ireland. What practitioners at PBNI and in other agencies are doing is implementing smart justice innovations and the obvious question is why? As a recovering Whitehall civil servant, the irreverent part of me wonders if the lack of any Government ministers has invariably helped officials and practitioners just to get on with good, practical innovation. The answer is probably more prosaic: good, switched on practitioners, given a certain amount of stability and a certain amount of freedom, can develop evidence-led responses to issues as they arise. More power to the frontline!