A new app designed to assist offenders to desist from crime has been launched by the Probation Board for Northern Ireland. The app also provides information on PBNI’s victim information scheme.
The new app, called “Changing Lives” was launched on 11 October by the Justice Minister Claire Sugden and Health Minister Michelle O’Neill.
The app is available on both Android and iOS and according to the PBNI:
is designed to enable offenders who have problems with their mental health or addictions to identify their problems and find support. It offers advice on how to overcome problems with addictions and signposts people to appropriate services. People who believe they are at risk can also directly ring the Samaritans or Lifeline from the app. Over 70% of people on probation supervision have an addiction to alcohol or drugs. Over 30% have a mental health issue.
The app has six different sections:
This section contains information on what is involved in being supervised on probation under different sentences (probation order, combination order, licence etc.); service users’ rights and responsibilities and, impressively, contains a link to the PBNI complaints procedure.
This section provides information about anxiety and depression and how and where to seek help including contact details for the Samaritans and helpful websites.
A straightforward list of “10 tips for overcoming addictions”.
Details of victim information schemes.
Address and contact numbers for all PBNI probation and prison teams as well as social security offices and other useful contacts.
A very simple journal which asks users to select one of 8 emojis to represent how they are feeling and fill in a simple text box saying why they feel this way and anything they should think about doing:
This is a straightforward app which represents an effective way of providing service users with basic useful information. Any service user with a smartphone will no longer have any reason to claim that he didn’t know where to report or how to get in touch with her/his probation officer.
At this stage, the level of interactivity is very basic with the simple journal facility lacking much detail.
However, it is to be hoped that this is merely the first iteration and the simple addition of just an alcohol diary, for example, would bring considerable benefits. Many paper and pen alcohol diaries come back each week uncompleted — not many of us would fill one in at a pub with our friends. However, most people are rarely separated from their phone and data can be entered easily and confidentially at the time, or at least during a toilet visit.
Of course, an app is only a tool and it is the relationship between offender manager and service user in which that tool is used which is critical to any journey towards desistance.
The creation of the app in itself may prove to be a great way for probation officers to engage with their service users and start working together.
The fact that PBNI took the time and trouble to develop the app and make it available on both major platforms (sorry windows phone users) gives a clear message to the offenders under their supervision that the service cares about them and is committed to delivering them a modern and appropriate service.
If your probation service/CRC has developed an app for work with offenders, please share information about it via the comments section below.