Northern Ireland Prison Service Facing Reform

As many as 500 prison officers could be made redundant as part of a major, fundamental reform of the prison service in Northern Ireland.

There is a severance package being proposed as one of the recommendations in an interim report published by a review team.

It found that almost 1,800 prison officers work in NI prisons - plus just over 400 civilian staff - with fewer than 1,600 prisoners to supervise.

The annual cost of keeping a prisoner is £95,000 - more than double the cost in England, Scotland and Wales.

However, the report published today labels NI's prison service as demoralised and ineffective.

Stormont Justice Minister David Ford published the interim report by the Prison Review Team led by Dame Anne Owers.

In a statement to the Assembly, Minister Ford said that the case for fundamental transformation of the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) couldn't be avoided.

"While this report will be uncomfortable reading for many, it once again makes the compelling case that the prison service has to change and cannot continue in its current form," he said.

In accepting the findings of the report, the Minister said that for too long in the past there was no political will to reform the service but now under devolution, there is both the challenge and the opportunity to deliver fundamental change.

He said: "The NIPS of the future must be smaller, more cost effective and dedicated to work with prisoners in their care to address their offending behaviour.

"There is a great distance to travel to get to that point but central to making those changes, is the introduction of an exit scheme that will allow those who want to leave the service to go with dignity. That work is ongoing within the Department," he continued.

"This interim report also makes it clear that as a society, we must look at how to prevent crime and how we manage offenders in the system and challenge their offending behaviour.

"That is a challenge not just for the Department of Justice, but for society as a whole and the Assembly must fully support the vision set out in today's report if we are to turn in into a reality."

The process has already started, with a letter sent to all prison officers today setting out the need for change, and confirming that a redundancy scheme will be launched in the autumn.

The Minister acknowledged that the Prison Service, with a newly appointed Director General, was rolling out a programme of change.

"The Strategic Efficiency and Effectiveness Programme (SEE Programme) will be vehicle used by the Prison Service to deliver the transformational change that is demanded by this report.

"We have a clear direction of travel, and Dame Anne and her team have helpfully identified those areas where specific recommendations are likely to be brought forward in their final report to be published before the summer," he continued.

Meanwhile, the Director General of the Northern Ireland Prison Service also welcomed the publication of the interim report.

Colin McConnell said: "This is a critical time for NIPS as we struggle to reconcile the legacy of the past with our desire and determination to get things right for the future.

"This interim report recognises and confirms the many difficulties that managers, staff and offenders have to deal with on a day to day basis when living and working in the prison environment.

"I wholeheartedly welcome the interim report from Dame Anne Owers and her team.

"The report establishes once and for all that there is an unquestionable case for NIPS to launch an all-embracing transformation programme.

"Helpfully at this stage, Dame Anne has identified where the early signposts for that change programme should be leading us to and, as the Justice Minister has said, NIPS is now beginning to respond to that need for a fundamental change in direction. NIPS is at a cross-roads and this report clearly points out for us the route for the journey ahead."


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