Response of the Secretary of State for
Northern Ireland to the Committee's Fourth Report of Session 1997-98
on the Prison Service in Northern Ireland
The Committee's principal conclusions and recommendations
have been carefully studied, and are broadly endorsed by the Government.
Over half the conclusions and recommendations are focused on staff
management issues. The Government recognises, and is determined
to tackle with vigour, the root causes of these concerns. By adopting
a more strategic approach, the Prison Service will work coherently
and effectively towards the achievement of its aim, to protect
the public by holding in secure and humane confinement persons
who have been given into custody by the courts, and to reduce
the risk of reoffending by encouraging those persons to take full
advantage of the opportunities offered during their confinement.
The Government is determined that, in the new environment
since the Belfast Agreement, issues of prison management will
be tackled with renewed emphasis on ensuring the safety and quality
of life of all concernedprisoners, prison staff, and the increasing
numbers of professionals who work within the prison environment.
The Prison Service is developing strategies to achieve these aims,
both in respect of vulnerable prisoners, and predatory prisoners
who may seek to exert undue influence over fellow prisoners and
Similarly, the Committee's concerns about the necessity
of holding juvenile females in the environs of an adult prison,
at Maghaberry, will be addressed, in the majority of cases, once
the facility for holding such individuals becomes available within
the juvenile justice estate. There may still be isolated incidents
where a more secure environment is required, and alternatives
for such cases are being explored.
The need to ensure that the regime available for
sentenced prisoners is not diluted by the diversion of staff to
escort duties for remand prisoners is likewise being addressed,
with a pilot scheme for video-links for remand appearances being
tested at the Young Offenders Centre, and with a working group
established to investigate the feasibility of ringfenced and reduced
staff provision for escort functions.
The Committee's recommendations about a Prison Ombudsman
for Northern Ireland, and the further formalisation of the position
of Her Majesty's Inspector of Prisons will both be taken forward
as part of a broader review of the legislation underpinning the
Prison Service; the Committee's recommendation on the removal
of the Board of Visitors' role in adjudications will be implemented,
as soon as possible, by amendment to the Prison Rules.
I agree that links between the Northern Ireland Prison
Service and the Probation Service should be close, and whilst
it is considered that relations at a working level are good, opportunities
will be explored to enhance the close and coherent working of
the Prison Service and the Probation Service, in order to ensure
the best possible management, rehabilitation and support of prisoners
through the prison system and into the community.
I place a very high priority on the need for the
Prison Service to address its management and morale problems,
and to move rapidly to a position where it takes justifiable pride
in its achievements, as an integral part of the Criminal Justice
System, serving the community and the interests of justice by
rehabilitating offenders and reducing the incidence of reoffending.
Success will be based on the individual efforts of members of
the Prison Service, for whose abilities and commitment the Government
has the greatest admiration. The Government is determined that
those attributes should be properly harnessed, led and directed,
and will do what is necessary to drive, facilitate and support
the process of change.