After four decades working in probation in Northern Ireland, Cheryl Lamont retires this month. This article reflects on Cheryl’s time in probation and her legacy in creating safer communities.
Cheryl qualified in social work in 1983 and worked as a residential social worker in a hostel for ex-offenders before joining PBNI in 1985. Her first post in PBNI was in Crumlin Road Prison and then she moved into generic fieldwork teams in North Belfast, an area that experienced considerable civil conflict and unrest. Cheryl also had the experience of more specialist Day Centre work with offenders as an intensive alternative to prison.
After being promoted to middle management in 1992, Cheryl gained experience across the Belfast City region and was the manager in the Shankill Road office when the notorious bombing took place in a local fishmonger’s by the IRA and 10 local people were killed in October 1993.
Under the auspices of a Winston Churchill Fellowship, Cheryl travelled to the USA in 1998 and undertook international research in Domestic Violence Perpetrator Programmes. Her research informed the development of statutory perpetrator interventions for some ten years in Northern Ireland which continue to this day. Cheryl also set up new and innovative structures across PBNI; the Intensive Supervision Unit, which had the oversight of those under supervision for sexual and domestic violence offences, and this resulted in much greater collaboration with police and social services.
Cheryl was promoted to the post of senior manager in 2000 and during that management period, she led on the establishment of the first statutory scheme for victims which entitled victims to apply for information on the offender who perpetrated the offence related to them in 2005 and the following year, she led on a huge Change Programme for the organisation with the introduction of the first-ever Electronic Case Management System for front line staff and managers.
In 2007, Cheryl was appointed on promotion, to Deputy Director. In terms of notable achievements, Cheryl alongside a senior police colleague, set up the first joint unit of police and probation staff in 2008 to manage more intently those assessed as the most dangerous sexual and domestic violence perpetrators in Northern Ireland. In 2011, Cheryl with her colleague, Deputy Director Paul Doran, oversaw the comprehensive and practitioner orientated “Best Practice Framework – Standards of Practice” which would become the operating manual for staff in the Probation Board for Northern Ireland.
Cheryl was appointed in September 2013 as the Interim Director to lead the organisation and then was appointed permanently in November 2016 as the Chief Executive. The immediate period following her appointment was the age of austerity with significant budget cuts across all public sectors in Northern Ireland. Within PBNI, the cuts were severe and to manage budgets and optimise retaining front line staff, 33% of the estate was closed and there was considerable austerity. However, under Cheryl’s leadership, the new Estate Strategy sought to modernise all running offices where staff worked and this has been hugely successful. As Cheryl retires, a new modern state-of-the-art Learning and Development Centre will be opened early in 2022.
There have been major improvements in IT over recent years which has enabled the workforce (pre-COVID) to be agile. A new Electronic Case Management System (ECMS) went fully live in April 2021 and in addition to being a more efficient and user-friendly system will importantly provide management reports on performance.
Under Cheryl’s leadership, she worked collaboratively with the Lord Chief Justice, Department of Justice and other key stakeholders in developing and delivering on a number of PSJ Initiatives. This included the Enhanced Combination Order which was first piloted in 2015 and is a direct alternative to up to a 12-month prison sentence. Probation has also played a key role in the development of a Substance Misuse Court and also in respect of Domestic Violence programmes for Health and Social Care Trusts across Northern Ireland.
PBNI are well-positioned to develop this work further in collaboration with the Department of Justice over the next period.
The COVID-19 pandemic undoubtedly became the priority issue for all governments and sometimes throughout the whole world. PBNI sought to manage the consequences of the pandemic and, whilst still delivering public services, sought to help keep staff and service users and the wider public in Northern Ireland safe. Fundamental to the success of PBNI’s management of the pandemic was the communication and guidance issued to staff, including personal podcasts from Cheryl as CEO.
Cheryl has always been an advocate for collaborative working and has sought to support the work of the CEP by attendance at meetings and staff participation at various training events, had an ongoing liaison with her neighbouring jurisdictions in Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales which, along with guidance and support from the CEP has been greatly valued and appreciated.
Cheryl leaves the Justice sector in Northern Ireland after 38 years, having worked in Probation for 36½ years and working through the grades to lead the organisation since September 2013 as Chief Executive. She leaves behind an excellent legacy, particularly in regards to collaborative working, innovation and modernisation.
Interim Chief Executive
Probation Board for Northern Ireland