Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)

WEDNESDAY 27 OCTOBER 1999

MR ROBIN HALWARD, MR MARTIN MOGG and MR ROBIN MASEFIELD

Mr McCabe

  40.  Even making allowances for the transition and the fact that you are using this time for training, six officers to each individual prisoner is quite an incredible ratio. Are you aware of any other regime that has that kind of ratio?
  (Mr Halward) No.

Mr Donaldson

  41.  I want to talk a bit about Maghaberry Prison, but there is a relationship between the Maze and Maghaberry obviously in terms of some of the things which are happening with reference to the reduction in the prison population. In response to Mr Beggs you did say that the staff reductions and the prison population reduction at the Maze had not had an impact on staffing levels at Maghaberry, yet I receive reports continually of problems at Maghaberry in terms of staffing levels and ongoing trouble there. I know you have taken measures to deal with the arson attacks which have been occurring there but there continue to be problems. Ought there not to be some flexibility here that if there are problems at Maghaberry some of the personnel presently based at the Maze could be redeployed to take some of the pressure off the staffing situation at Maghaberry. You may say there is no staffing problem but prison officers would not be coming to me as their MP and telling me there is a staffing problem if there was not some problem. Therefore I wondered whether there is not some room, given this very generous ratio of prisoner to prison officer or prison staff that you have at the Maze, to do something to ease the situation at Maghaberry?
  (Mr Halward) A couple of general points, if I may. The first one is about the difficulty by any objective means of deciding what is an appropriate level of staffing in a prison. This is an ongoing issue. If you take the old style prison exercise, which would have maybe 200 prisoners out in the fresh air, do you need four, 14, 40 or 400 staff to supervise that? It all depends on the circumstances. If the prisoners are co-operating fully four is plenty, if the prisoners are refusing to come in and we want to bring them in, it is 400. It is an area where there is constant debate and by many standards the overall number of staff at Maghaberry is very reasonable. Having said that, I quite acknowledge the staff concerns about staffing at Maghaberry and our need to tackle that. We have in fact given some modest extra staff to Maghaberry at various points in the course of this year. We have transferred into them replacements for staff leaving under the first two phases of the staff reduction programme several weeks in advance of the staff leaving, which has helped with that. Most recently for the court escort group when setting that up we have not removed the number of staff from Maghaberry that we might have done. In other words we have taken the work away without taking all the staff away. That is being seen now at Maghaberry in terms of consistency in running workshops, PE, education and so on, which was not there previously. Maghaberry is in my view a very, very difficult prison. It consists of buildings which were not designed for the purpose to which they are currently being put. It was a design which was used essentially for long-term sentence prisoners. Now 50 per cent of those at Maghaberry are remand prisoners who move in and out of the prison more often and make particular demands on things like the reception area and visits and so on. It is quite difficult in that respect. There is a fundamental staffing issue about Maghaberry which is the relationship of the attendance arrangements of the staff to the work that is to be done. We are currently in negotiation with the POA about how we rectify that. That is also part of the problem. We have proposals on the table which tackle this, which bring the work and staffing of Maghaberry into balance. We are tackling it and I appreciate the frustrations that staff there feel. May I just say that a lot of staff at Maghaberry are working very, very hard in my view to make that establishment run, despite all its problems?

  42.  The Committee had previously expressed some concerns about the mix of prisoners at Maghaberry and the annual report notes "particular difficulties" in this regard at Maghaberry during 1998-99. Would you like to expand on that a little and tell us about some of the particular difficulties there have been vis-a"-vis the mix of prisoners. You obviously have now factored into the equation at Maghaberry paramilitary related prisoners who committed offences post the Belfast Agreement but are being held at Maghaberry rather than being transferred to the Maze. What impact has that had on the management of the Maghaberry Prison?
  (Mr Halward) It is undoubtedly true that it makes it more complicated because it adds an element to the mix. It is quite difficult again to get at a real assessment of the extent of that problem. We have three people in custody at Maghaberry from an organisation not currently on ceasefire. There is nobody else in there for paramilitary related offences although of course there is a number of prisoners in there who have previously been associated with paramilitary organisations and have committed other offences. It does make it more complicated and we are doing some detailed work on how far to sustain the present arrangements which are a fairly full integration of those prisoners. Another group we are concerned about are prisoners who might loosely be described as vulnerable, prisoners who do not fall into any particular category in terms of offence. Often sex offenders are regarded as vulnerable prisoners and some or indeed many of them are, but the category is much broader than that. It includes anybody who is in danger of being victimised. Given that many of those in prison in my experience, if not most, are in different circumstances both bullies and bullied, the way in which we handle that has to be worked up fairly carefully. We are looking at how we might best provide a more safe and secure environment for all vulnerable prisoners than we do at the moment. There are already in place at Maghaberry anti-bullying programmes and means of tackling identified bullies but we are conscious that more needs to be done.

  43.  I shall come on to the vulnerable prisonerunit in a moment but sticking with the problems withthe mix of prisoners, supposing that the numberof paramilitary-related prisoners increases at Maghaberry, are you confident that you as a Prison Service will be able to maintain integration of those prisoners at Maghaberry without having to go to the Maze style segregation that we have had in the past where paramilitary groups have wings and a relative degree of control of those wings. You did express concerns earlier on about the ability of the layout of Maghaberry to cope with the evolving role of Maghaberry in terms of the greater mix of prisoner you are having there. Is there a danger at some stage that we might fall back to this kind of segregation that has operated in the past at the Maze Prison?
  (Mr Halward) It would certainly be wrong of me to give the impression that I am complacent about that issue. In operational terms it is probably the most serious issue confronting the Prison Service. It depends on the numbers, it depends on the individuals and it depends on the level of support for those individuals and any campaign they might launch from groups in the community. We have a fundamental responsibility, which is to provide the most safe and secure conditions we can for both staff and prisoners. I would certainly not say that there is no point at which we would have to consider separating out different groups. It is possible to devise ways of separating out different groups and providing secure conditions without a return to some of the features of the Maze regime which are uniformly and rightly regarded as unsatisfactory. What we are doing at the moment is some detailed work on the whole range of options if we reach the point at which we cannot maintain full integration along the lines I explained earlier. We have very experienced but quite junior staff doing the work on that, the ones who have to cope with it on a day to day basis.

  44.  What you are saying is that the Prison Service cannot rule out the possibility, depending on numbers and the level of support they would have for any campaign for segregation and so on, that in the future you might have to implement a segregation system if the numbers of paramilitary prisoners increase and there is pressure to separate them. Would Maghaberry Prison be able to cope with that kind of segregated system given its layout?
  (Mr Halward) We cannot be certain at this stage. The contingency plan we will do will look not only at Maghaberry but at the rest of the prison estate as well and indeed whether we can manage it within the buildings we currently have in Northern Ireland. I come back to the point that there is a limit to what can be done within the approach to imprisonment taken in the United Kingdom and what is regarded as humane in United Kingdom terms. The approach taken in the United States to this sort of issue of dangerous prisoners would be fundamentally different from the approach we would take in western Europe and the UK.

  45.  You mentioned earlier the vulnerable prisoners. There is a proposal for a vulnerable prisoner unit at Maghaberry. When is it expected to come on stream? You also mentioned the anti-bullying programme you have there. Could you expand on that a little? For example, could you tell us whether a victim of bullying at the prison has to be prepared to name a bully or does there have to be staff or do the staff have to have independent evidence before a prisoner would be referred to a vulnerable prisoner unit? Where do you see that going?
  (Mr Halward) As far as the timescale is concerned for setting up a vulnerable prisoner unit—and I would say we see this with a small "v" and a small "p" and a small "u" really, I am not generally speaking a great fan of hanging labels around people's necks if we can avoid it—Magilligan Prison now has a very good way of dealing with a substantial number of vulnerable prisoners where there is no vulnerable prisoner unit with that label on it but the prisoners are housed together in one unit where they associate with people who are not a threat to them. One particular benefit of this is that we are now able to hold in ordinary accommodation a few prisoners who would previously have had to be segregated under Prison Rule 32 because they would not have fitted in anyway but they will fit in with this group. That is the principle of the approach we shall seek to have at Maghaberry where people are accommodated separately but not totally isolated for things like visits and education.

  46.  You feel the way your plan is evolving is that you might not have a separate labelled vulnerable prisoner unit but have a policy of accommodating together those who are suffering from bullying and are vulnerable.
  (Mr Halward) Yes.
  (Mr Mogg) In terms of the mechanics, the anti-bullying landing—close supervision landing it is called—at Maghaberry operates on the basis that if there is sufficient information coming from staff and from prisoners then we will isolate a prisoner on that close supervision landing. There is no requirement necessarily that a prisoner should stand up and face and name the bully. Obviously you cannot do that because part of the reason they are bullied is so they do not tell people. The area we have to manage is the likely judicial review of removing privileges from prisoners. Rule 32 is quite specific about what we can take away and we have to be prepared to tell the prisoner why and obviously face legal challenges to that if that is the case. There are two devices which operate at Maghaberry at the moment, one is this close supervision landing, which contains a number of prisoners who associate together because they are all bullies, and then there is segregation with a small "s" of other prisoners who as individuals have to be kept separate from other prisoners. At any time there are up to one dozen on that particular regime as well. That is also subject to judicial review.

Mr Pound

  47.  I have spent a fair bit of time in prison; wearing black and white I hasten to add. At Dartmoor where I was the other day you have a very enlightened governor, John Lawrence, who has a policy within his prison very much along the lines you were talking about though not just with regard to the VPU, although in that case they do actually have a VPU block, but on the bullying thing. What advantage do you take of the shared expertise within the Prison Service, bearing in mind, and you could not deny it, that there are exceptional circumstances in the six counties? Do you have any sort of pool of knowledge on which you draw? Can you get any benefit from what I would say is an extremely successful policy in Dartmoor Prison and one which is supported by staff and inmates and really does seem to be working?
  (Mr Halward) There is a substantial level of contact between the Northern Ireland Prison Service and prison services in both Scotland and England and Wales at every level. We are conscious just how small a service we are. There is a steady trail of people going across from Northern Ireland to look at good practice in a whole range of different areas. It is a standard part of policy formulation. The extent to which people go from Northern Ireland to other prison services is much greater than from England and Wales and Scotland; I am thinking of England and Wales in particular which is so large that it has perhaps all the expertise within it. There is quite a lot of exchange of views. We go to various conferences and things they organise as well.
  (Mr Mogg) Specifically to do with anti-bullying, the management team at Magilligan actually went to Lancashire Farms Prison in Lancashire where there is a very good anti-bullying strategy. The young offenders establishment team here have also gone to look at Moorland Prison in Yorkshire which has a very successful anti-bullying strategy. Yes, we pinched the ideas from the mainland to be quite honest and the model which is operating in Maghaberry is based on experience we have shared with colleagues across the water.

  48.  One of the things at Dartmoor which they identified very quickly with bullying was that a great deal of it was to do with contraband. There are some people who are bullies per se and who will bully in any circumstances, but a lot of it was to do with drugs and tobacco and money and various things within that. They linked the anti-bullying strategy with the drug free wings, with mandatory drug tests, with constant drug tests. Is that a similar problem in the Northern Ireland Prison Service, particularly drugs?
  (Mr Halward) We are certainly concerned about contraband. One of the areas on which we are doing detailed work at the moment and have gone out to take the views of the people in the community on, is the question of tightening up on visits security. You will know that there is a fairly limited range of means by which contraband can come into prisons.

  49.  Do you have passive dogs?
  (Mr Halward) No, we do not at this stage. There is a whole range of things at which we are looking. One is parcels of food which can be used to store contraband. There is a question of passive drug dogs, there is better searching of visitors, better identification of visitors, a whole range of security measures which for reasons largely linked with the culture of imprisonment in Northern Ireland in the last 30 years or so have not progressed in the way in which they have in England and Wales. Mr Mogg has set up a team which is doing the detailed work on that and we are trying to introduce a pilot scheme in Magilligan next year.
  (Mr Mogg) That includes a passive drug dog.

Mr Beggs

  50.  What arrangements are in place and what programmes are being developed by the Northern Ireland Prison Service to help prisoners deal with the behaviour which led to their crimes?
  (Mr Halward) The programmes we currently have in place are a sex offender treatment programme, anger management programme, some drugs programmes. We have a pilot scheme going in the young offenders' centre on the New Deal, Welfare to Work scheme which is looking very encouraging. For the young offenders we have some parenting classes going. Those are probably the main ones going at the moment and we are currently working very closely with the Probation Service, both to extend the number of those courses, preferably jointly delivered by probation staff and prison staff and to extend out into other areas. It is one of the areas where quite frankly we have not been able in the past to give as much attention as we would have liked and we see it as something we must do for the future. There remain some little pockets of excellence. In addition to things I have mentioned, the young offenders' centre is involved in the Duke of Edinburgh's Award scheme. That scheme was re-launched a few months ago and it is very good to see a couple of former trainees from the young offenders' centre who have made good come back and explain to people how doing the Duke of Edinburgh's Award had enabled them to steer clear of crime when they went out.

Mr Donaldson

  51.  What improvements in the regime for sentenced prisoners at Maghaberry, which suffered as a result of the priority use of staff for escort duties, may be expected to arise from the new arrangements for court escorts described in your memorandum?
  (Mr Halward) Broadly speaking the PE, education and workshops were frequently, often daily, interrupted by the staff for the courts. Since the introduction of the court service, certainly since 11 October, there has not been a single shutdown of any one of those activities. We shall be able to build up to full operating in those areas which will be a major step forward both in terms of services to prisoners and indeed staff satisfaction. As committed staff they have not been able to do the job for which they have been recruited and trained.

Mr Pound

  52.  Could we turn to the needs of women? What is the service actually doing about the specific needs of women prisoners in general? I do not mean young girls, which will be a separate question, but the needs of women prisoners in light of the growing recognition in the prison world that the needs of women prisoners are quite different from those of men.
  (Mr Halward) A continuing challenge in Northern Ireland will be that it is a very, very small women's population. I think the figure yesterday was 16 women prisoners in Northern Ireland and that was everybody, sentenced, unsentenced, young offenders and adults. It is going to be extraordinarily difficult to provide a full range of activities unless we can reach the point, and we are perhaps not far from it, where in some respects it is an individualised programme. I do not know whether you visited Mourne House at some stage, which is attached to Maghaberry but it is a prison with a full range of facilities, a workshop, an education department and so on for this tiny group of prisoners.

  53.  How many could it take?
  (Mr Halward) It could take up to about 80.
  (Mr Mogg) Fifty-two in single cell accommodation. We have never had more than about 48 in Northern Ireland.

  54.  That is a tribute to the women of Northern Ireland clearly. I have just been told they do not get caught.
  (Mr Halward) Because the number is so small it is virtually individualised education, training and so on and a purpose designed regime is put together if we have a mother and baby for example in prison in Northern Ireland. There has not been one in my year or so. What it does mean is that there is a limited extent to which the prisoners can associate with each other because there are so few.
  (Mr Mogg) Having governed Durham Prison which had a women's unit, facilities in Northern Ireland are much better than they ever were in Durham. I think the facilities in Mourne House are very good for the women prisoners. The numbers are always a problem because obviously you do not want to isolate individuals just because they are a separate group in the sense that they might be remands or young offenders, so we do tend to mix judiciously when appropriate. It is a very difficult small population to manage. At one end of the scale you have lifers and at the other end you have someone in for two weeks for not paying their TV licence. It is very difficult to meet the needs of all those individuals.

  55.  You will be aware that the Home Office has recently issued a consultation paper suggesting the abolition of the legal distinction between prison and young offenders' institutes in England, partially to improve flexibility of accommodation. I am sure there is also a philosophical rationale behind it. Bearing in mind as a given in everything we say that we are talking about an estate of three establishments, is there a case for a similar policy in Northern Ireland in your opinion?
  (Mr Halward) Effectively with women in Northern Ireland and indeed largely in England and Wales, there is little distinction. Women of all ages mix, under supervision, in Northern Ireland. The philosophical background as I understand it is that adult women are regarded as helpful to young offenders in custody, help them to settle in and cope with the pressures of imprisonment and so on. In our circumstances there is not realistically an alternative. You could seek to send out of the jurisdiction young women in custody but that would be to infringe what is probably the most important principle which is a nearness to home principle. If you were to separate them off in any other way, it would be too small a group to be completely isolated. You could be down to an individual on some occasions. To mix with young males would not be a sensible road to go down, certainly not at this stage.

  56.  In fact I was thinking about the general principle of YO institutions generally, not just as they affect women prisoners. What do you feel about the Home Office consultation on the abolition of that distinction?
  (Mr Halward) I have to confess I have not seen the paper.

  57.  You have not read the Home Office consultation paper!
  (Mr Halward) I am afraid not.

  58.  Congratulations on your answer.
  (Mr Halward) I shall go out straightaway and read it. I have tended over my career to take it as a granted that apart from some blurring round the edges which is justified by different levels of maturity, I have rather taken it for granted that one should seek to deal with youngsters separately. My own personal experience has been that the potential to do positive work with youngsters is, perhaps as one would expect, better than the potential to do positive work with adults. One of the very good things about the Northern Ireland Prison Service at the moment is the young offenders' institution which to me seems to retain the best of the ethos of the old borstal system which were very much offender-centred, what can we do to help this individual prepare to return to the community.
  (Mr Mogg) Mr Halward mentioned blurring. Blurring in Northern Ireland is greater than it is in England. We will keep people in the young offenders' centre if they are immature up to the age of 23 and we will transfer prisoners who are disruptive or from a terrorist background into the adult prisons if that is appropriate. Obviously there is a procedure we go through in order to achieve that, but we are much more flexible about that than they are in England and Wales.

  59.  Returning to the issue specifically of young girls, given the general unease about the detention of young girls in Maghaberry—I think we are talking about three in one year; it is a very, very small number—I am just wondering what steps the Prison Service in Northern Ireland is taking to address the problem of young girls in secure accommodation, leading on from what you have just said.
  (Mr Halward) We share the Committee's view that it is profoundly unsatisfactory to hold young girls in Prison Service accommodation. The problem is the alternative. We are very much on the receiving end of this in that we have to take people who are sent to us by order of the court. Our aim is to do the very best that we can with them in the circumstances. We wish there were an alternative but see the difficulties with that as well because one tends to think in terms of individuals but young girls who get sent into prison custody are very disruptive and a problem in association with other young vulnerable girls. The problem of the jurisdiction of Northern Ireland as a whole is quite difficult for this tiny, tiny number of individuals. If such people must be in prison custody, then a very small unit such as we have at Mourne House is probably as good as you are going to get in prison terms anywhere that I am aware of in the UK, because it is so small and has a very high ratio of staff to prisoners.


 
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