Over 60 offenders get alternative to prison

Stephen Hamilton, assistant director of PBNI, and Paul Millar Assistant director of children's services Barnardo's.
Stephen Hamilton, assistant director of PBNI, and Paul Millar Assistant director of children's services Barnardo's.

Over 60 offenders in the North West have been sentenced to an Enhanced Combination Order since October last year.

Enhanced Combination Orders (ECO) are a direct alternative to short prison sentences and attempt to address offending behaviours.

Research shows that short-term prison sentences are less effective in addressing these behaviours than community based disposals.

More than 50 per cent of offenders sentenced to a short prison term will re-offend.

The Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan requested that the Probation Board for Northern Ireland develop a community sentence as an alternative to prison sentences lasting less than 12 months.

ECOs use a multi-agency, collaborative approach between PBNI and a range of other organisations including Barnardo’s and Community Restorative Justice Ireland.

Service users must complete unpaid work within their communities, participate in victim-focussed work, undergo psychological assessment and undertake offending focussed work.

ECOs are one of five problem solving pilot schemes which are being run by the Department of Justice in court divisions across the North.

Stephen Hamilton, Assistant Director of PBNI, said that short prison sentences often interrupt positive things in an offender’s life and ‘do not address the offending behaviour’

He said that sentences under 12 months are not long enough to heal offenders or to address any issues they may have.

“Many judges see defendants coming through the court system and over a 20 year period may see their children and their grandchildren. ECOs are attempting to interrupt that cycle of offending.

“With an ECO the offenders receive lot of support, interventions and opportunities to turn their life around. It is their last chance and if they don’t comply we will enforce it quicker.

Barnardo’s provide early intervention for offenders who are parents and attempt to break the cycle of offending in families.

Paul Millar, of Barnardo’s, said they engage with offenders to help them recognise the impact of their behaviour on their close relationships.

“Many offenders have not had the best family lives themselves,” he said.

“Because of their behaviours, and maybe addictions or mental health issues, there can be strains within relationships which aren’t always enablers to leading a positive life.

“We focus on their behaviour and work with them to increase their knowledge about age appropriate parenting skills.”