14/12/2010

North's Prisons 'Cost Too Much To Run'

It has emerged that there are more people working in the North of Ireland's jails than there are inmates to supervise.

A report - just published - has also described industrial relations in NI prisons as "destructive".

It said that the cost is very high too, almost £95,000 a year - some two and a half times more than anywhere else in the UK.

Now, the Stormont Justice Minister David Ford has said that the case for fundamental reforms within the Prison Service is undeniable.

Following the publication of Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland's (CJINI) report on the corporate governance arrangements within the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS), David Ford said: "Our prison system developed in response to the issues of another day, and while society has changed, and society's expectations of the Prison Service have changed, the Service itself has not kept pace with those changes."

He said the report by Dr Michael Maguire sets out the historical context in which NIPS has operated and developed but highlights the need for transformation of the way in which the Prison Service works.

"This important report highlights fundamental problems within the Prison Service that go beyond the operational issues which the Service and I have been wrestling with in recent months.

"The Service cannot remain in its current form. Fundamental change is essential, otherwise the failures of recent months will be repeated," he said.

The Minister also said that Dr Maguire's Report will 'feed into' the review of prisons' being undertaken by Dame Anne Owers.

"The challenge for me as Minister, for leaders within the Prison Service and across the wider political spectrum, is to deliver the fundamental reforms that our Prison Service needs, whether they be structural, operational or cultural.

"That is why I am committed to the twin-tracked reform programme, which is already underway, comprising the comprehensive Review of Prisons being led by Anne Owers and the Strategic Efficiency and Effectiveness Programme being taken forward within the Prison Service," the Alliance MLA continued.

"If in the future we are to have a Prison Service in which I as Minister, and the wider community, can all have confidence, we must commit ourselves to fundamentally reforming the Service and we must see it through to completion."

The report pointed out that there are almost 1,900 uniformed officers and 400 support staff for Northern Ireland's 1,500 prison population, yet there are often problems with staffing levels.

This means that the staff-to-prisoner ratio is far larger than other parts of the UK.

Also, officers in the region are paid a third more than their counterparts in Scotland, England and Wales so that the cost of housing inmates in Northern Ireland is also a lot higher.

It stands at £95,000 a year compared to an average of £45,000 elsewhere in the UK.

However, while the Minister welcomed an agreement reached last week between Prison Service management and the Prison Officers Association (POA) on closer working relationships, the report said that the POA's attitude to industrial relations are "destructive" and inspectors said the union has been able to exercise a "de facto veto" over change.

He concluded: "The Prison Service will face unprecedented challenges over the next few years and in this context, it is essential that both management and the POA work together so that the necessary changes can be made within NIPS."

(BMcC/KMcA)

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