‘Public protection arrangements performing well but no room for complacency’ says Inspectorate

The Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland Brendan McGuigan has acknowledged the continued positive developments and progress made around the Public Protection Arrangements Northern Ireland (PPANI) in a new report published today (Wednesday 23 October 2019).
The report entitled ‘Lawful Duty’ is Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland's (CJI's) sixth assessment of public protection arrangements.

“The management of sexual and violent offenders generates both considerable public interest and concern. The partnerships in place between the police, probation and prison services in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and Health and Social Care Trusts, are at the heart of managing the risk posed to the public,” said Brendan McGuigan, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.

“During this inspection we found levels of engagement between the various partner agencies remained high and that progress has been made in relation to governance arrangements.  We also found offenders hostels continued to provide a very important public protection service in support of PPANI,” said Mr McGuigan.

Category Three offenders – those assessed as posing the greatest level of risk - were rigorously managed by the co-located Public Protection Team made up of police, probation and social services staff with their cases reviewed every 16 weeks at Local Area Public Protection Panels.

The inspection found that while each of the PPANI bodies continued to dedicate experienced staff to the public protection arrangements, maintaining the required level of resource was a challenge.

“Inspectors identified that while police officers engaged in this area of work were well motivated, at the time of inspection fieldwork, sickness and other absence levels along with staff turnover and the need to manage increasing numbers of cases, were causing considerable pressure.  Similarly, prison service staff were frequently extracted from PPANI duties to undertake other responsibilities within the prison environment,” said Mr McGuigan.

The PPANI caseload was also found to have been steadily increasing, with the number of Category 1 offenders – those assessed to pose a lower level of risk to the public and whose management fell primarily to the police alone – rising by around 30% from 1,000 in 2011 to about 1,400 in October 2018.

“Inspectors were concerned that in the face of a lack of available officers, a need for more technological training and the prospect of the ongoing and increasing demand for the police to deal with significant numbers of Category 1 offenders, the current policing resource model was unsustainable and presented an immediate risk which must be addressed,” said Mr McGuigan.

“As a result we have recommended the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) should within the next six months develop an action plan to sustain the resourcing of its Public Protection Units and a system to cope with the demands of Category 1 offenders.”

The Chief Inspector also called for work to be done by the PPANI Strategic Management Board to develop an action plan for the roll out and adoption of a multi-agency information sharing system by all of the core PPANI agencies.

“Inspectors identified that the police, probation and prison services in England and Wales had access to the Violent and Sex Offender Register (ViSOR) database to enable them to manage public protection cases, yet in Northern Ireland, the ViSOR database was only used by the PSNI.

“As there was no obvious reason for the other agencies not accessing either this register or a similar type of database, we have recommended that all PPANI agencies should have access to this type of system,” he said.

Mr McGuigan also recommended that the PSNI should develop the capability of its officers to access and interrogate technology, such as mobile devices and computers held by PPANI offenders, in order to enable officers to identify if their electronic equipment was being used appropriately.

In conclusion, the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice said he believed the introduction of legislation 11 years ago which placed the requirement for PPANI agencies to cooperate on a statutory footing had been beneficial.  He suggested it provided a template from which others could learn.

“In 2011, I assessed the PPANI partnership to be the best example of inter-agency and cross-departmental working within the criminal justice sector.  I continue to hold this view but believe there is no room for complacency and the PPANI agencies collectively, must strive to continue to be an example of best practice.

“With PPANI case numbers expected to continue to grow, it will be increasingly important that the agencies involved provide consistency in relation to key personnel, smooth succession planning and an ongoing commitment to resourcing, in particular, the PSNI’s Public Protection Unit, to risk assess and manage Category 1 offenders,” said Mr McGuigan.