Memorandum submitted by the Northern Ireland
NORTHERN IRELAND PRISON SERVICE PROGRESS REPORT TO
THE NORTHERN IRELAND AFFAIRS COMMITTEEHEARING ON 25 OCTOBER
1. In October 1999 the progress report to
the Committee focused on the four broad areas covered in the Committee's
report of November 1998: staff management issues; specific operational
matters; inspection and accountability arrangements; and links
with the Probation Service. For ease of comparison this paper
covers the same subjects giving further key developments and in
addition provides a progress report on implementing the recommendations
of the Quinquennial Review, including formulating the new Framework
2. The past year has again been one of considerable
change and upheaval for the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS)
with the continuing release of prisoners under the Northern Ireland
(Sentences) Act 1998 and the consequent reduction in staff numbers.
Since April 1998 and up to 30 September 2000, 1,036 staff have
left the Service through the Staff Reduction Programme and a further
104 have left through natural wastage. This overall reduction
of 1,140 equates to a 40 per cent decrease in staff numbers and
has been achieved entirely through voluntary means. The Service
will reduce by a further 52 staff, largely specialists, who are
due to leave by 31 March 2001.
3. Against this background the Service met
or exceeded five of its eight key targets in the 1999-2000 year.
Other significant achievements during the year were the attainment
of Investors in People recognition in five out of the six sites;
the addition of HMP Maghaberry to the video link with the Royal
Courts of Justice and Belfast Magistrates' Court; and the introduction
of new visits arrangements at HMP Magilligan which enhance both
security and services to visitors. The Service's operating expenditure
has reduced from £134.8 million in 1997-98 to a forecast
spend of £96.9 million for the year 2000-01, a reduction
of 28 per cent. (These figures exclude the costs of the Staff
Reduction Programme.) This equates to a Cost Per Prisoner Place
forecast of £77,464 in 2000-01, well within the target for
the year of £76,000 to £81,000. For 2000-01 we are well
on course to meet eight of the nine key targets in the Corporate
and Business Plan. Currently we are falling narrowly short of
the target "to ensure that an average of at least 50 per
cent of the eligible prisoner population is working to a sentence
4. The main task of senior management in
NIPS is the development and implementation of strategy for the
effective delivery of the Service. To this end, and prompted by
a reduction in the number of Directors at Headquarters, we have
abolished the Senior Policy Group which brought together more
than one management level and a range of interests. In its place
we have established a new NIPS Management Board. The core membership
of the Board comprises the Director General and the three Directors.
It is planned to add non-executive Directors as proposed by the
Criminal Justice Review and Quinquennial Review.
5. Staffing issues have formed a major part
of the Service's current programme of work.
6. The Staff Reduction Programme provided
an opportunity to introduce new management structures in each
establishment with fewer layers of management, wider responsibilities
and a greater emphasis on accountability, as recommended by the
Prison Service Review. At the same time we have improved efficiency
through the recruitment of auxiliaries and further civilianisation
of prison officer posts. Over the past year 26 recruitment, promotion
and selection competitions have been held involving a total of
1,940 candidates. Another nine promotion/selection competitions
are planned before 31 March 2001.
7. The Prison Service reinforced its commitment
to achieving recognition as an Investor in People organisation
by successfully undertaking an external assessment in December
1999 at five of its six sites (Maghaberry prison will undergo
formal assessment in March next year). The Service intends building
on the good practice and standards already achieved in preparing
for re-accreditation in 2001.
8. The corporate development and training
target of five days average per person was exceeded in 1999-2000
by 30 per cent with staff receiving an average of 6.5 development
and training days. This represents an increase of almost 40 per
cent in the figures achieved in 1998-99. In the first half of
2000-01 training year 3.8 days per person have been delivered
and it is anticipated that the corporate target will be exceeded
for a second time. The development and training priorities for
the past year centred on the Staff Reduction Programme, which
provided outplacement training for staff leaving the Service,
as well as 15 days' training for over 550 Maze staff to enable
them to work safely and effectively in more normal regimes at
other establishments. Induction and development training has also
been provided for 178 newly promoted managers and for 134 new
recruits to the Service. A Senior Management Development Programme
is being developed for Governor Grade IV and General Service Deputy
Principal grade levels and above. The purpose of the programme
is to assist senior managers to develop skills and competencies
to meet the challenges of their jobs both currently and in the
future. In September 2000 we launched "Future Positive",
a two-day workshop aimed at helping all staff remaining in the
Service to identify with its vision and values and to recognise
their contribution in achieving the future goals of the organisation.
9. Since the last evidence session rapid
progress has been made on the introduction of improved measures
to support staff who are unable to attend work due to sickness
absence. Rigorous monitoring has been introduced to ensure consistent
and fair application of the absence management procedures across
the Service and local occupational health groups have been building
on the support services available to staff at local level. Reduced
trigger points to allow for management intervention at a much
earlier stage in the absence were introduced on 1 September, and
the Limited Fitness Trial has been rolled out to all establishments.
Specific absence reduction targets have been introduced throughout
the Service with supporting improvement plans.
10. The 30 per cent reduction in absenteeism
by March 2001 is a two-year target, which compares favourably
with the Cabinet Office target to reduce absenteeism within the
Public Service by 30 per cent by the year 2003. A reduction in
operational days lost of 17.2 per cent was achieved in the 1999-2000
year, which, in financial terms, represents a notional saving
of around £2 million in salaries alone. The Service remains
on course to achieve its 30 per cent reduction target by 31 March
2001. Two additional measurable benefits of the improvements are
that ill health retirements have been noticeably reduced and attendance
at training has increased substantially.
11. We were delighted that it was agreed
in principle in July of this year by the Ceremonial Office that
there should be a new medal to recognise the special pressures
on the Northern Ireland Prison Service over the last 30 years.
12. All the remaining Good Friday Agreement
prisoners due for release from Maze on 28 July left the prison
at that date. Special arrangements were then put in place to transfer
those prisoners remaining in Maze to HMP Maghaberry and HMP Magilligan.
Although these prisoner transfers were delayed pending the outcome
of judicial review proceedings, the Maze finally closed at the
end of September. For a period it is mothballed to provide the
contingency accommodation and small service needs. No decision
has yet been taken on its long-term future.
13. The centralised Prisoner Escort Group,
which became operational in October 1999, is functioning very
effectively. The Group has had an extremely positive impact on
the capacity of the Service to meet the operational demands associated
with the movement of prisoners to courts. By eliminating entirely
the need to call on prisons operational staff, it has ensured
a greater consistency in the maintenance and delivery of functions
and activities underpinning the establishments' regimes. In the
first year of operation it has also generated financial savings
in excess of £1 million through a reduction in payment by
the Prison Service to the RUC.
14. Phase Two of the Video Link project
adding Maghaberry prison to the existing link with Belfast Magistrates'
Court and the Royal Courts of Justice was introduced in May of
this year. Like the existing link with the Young Offenders Centre
to the same courts this facility allows both remand and bail applications
to be conducted using video conferencing technology. It also facilitates
consultations between the prisoner and his/her legal representative.
Some benefits of the system are that there has been a reduction
of approximately 15 per cent in the number of inmates passing
through the establishments' receptions, it provides a higher degree
of security and as there is no delay in prisoners arriving at
court, efficiency within the court domain has improved. A recent
independent evaluation by an independent consultant revealed that
the video link system was preferred by most inmates and by the
judiciary and legal profession. Current plans are to extend the
link to Ballymena and Lisburn Magistrates' Courts.
15. The development of new visiting arrangements
at Magilligan prison was of major significance. A booked visits
system now provides a more efficient service with visitors being
able to pre-book visits through a variety of methods, including
the Internetthis is a first for a UK prison. Security arrangements
are much improved, including measures to prevent drugs being smuggled
in by a visitor. Maghaberry is currently looking at introducing
a similar visits system by the end of this financial year.
16. Last year an independent assessment
of the level of illegal drugs usage was carried out in Magilligan,
Maghaberry and YOC. In response we have appointed a Governor as
Drugs Coordinator who is responsible for facilitating effective
service-wide measures to combat the availability and use of drugs
in establishments. Revised local drugs strategies are being put
in place in each establishment. Visits have recently taken place
between members of the Irish Prisons Service and NIPS to exchange
ideas and strategies against drugs in prisons.
17. One of the concerns of the Committee
was the absence of a Vulnerable Prisoner Unit. We have now a Vulnerable
Prisoner Unit within HMP Maghaberry and this has been in operation
for about six months. On average 30 prisoners are housed in the
Unit which offers a safer environment and a more settled regime.
18. Under the Criminal Justice (Children)
(Northern Ireland) Order 1998, the Northern Ireland Prison Service
provides custodial facilities for disruptive juvenile offenders.
Male juveniles are housed at YOC whilst females are housed in
Mourne House at Maghaberry. Both the Committee and NIPS have concerns
about the latter arrangements, given the need to provide an appropriate
regime for children, in the context of sharing facilities with
adult female prisoners. Although the numbers are small (there
are no female juveniles at present in prison custody), the potential
risk for such female juveniles mixing with older females with
a varied offence profile is significant. We have expressed our
concerns in our response to the Criminal Justice Review.
Accountability and Inspection Arrangements
19. Boards of Visitors have now been removed
from the prisons adjudication function. Arrangements are now in
place for matters which would have previously fallen to Boards
of Visitors to be referred to the RUC for investigation.
20. Ministers agreed with the Committee
that dependence on the Courts is an inappropriate way for many
prisoner grievances to be resolved and we committed ourselves
to ensuring that efficient and effective arrangements are in place
to deal with prison complaints. Since the last evidence session,
we have completed a review of our overall approach to prisoner
grievance procedures. It is now our intention to create the position
of Prisons Ombudsman for Northern Ireland in the course of our
review and revision of prisons legislation.
21. Important changes over the past few
years have suggested that the time may now be right for a review
of prisons' legislation. The changing nature of our prison population;
changes in the number and size of our prison establishments; and
the impact of wider legislative change such as the Human Rights
Act, all have potential implications for the framework within
which Northern Ireland's prisons operate.
22. The legislative base itself has remained
largely untouched for some timethe Prison Act (Northern
Ireland) itself has been in force since 1953 but has been extensively
amended on a number of occasions. Prison Rules underwent a review
in 1995, but require a fresh look given developments since and
we have already indicated to the Committee the commencement of
our work to review the Rules. Legislative and operational developments
in other jurisdictions will also be worth considering in the local
23. We see reviews of the Act and Rules
as major steps forward for the Prison Service. They will provide
an opportunity to deliver commitments given to the Committee on
the Prisons Ombudsman; the opportunity to introduce new procedures
to Northern Ireland prisonsmandatory testing for drugs
might be one example; and to take forward any appropriate decisions
arising from the Criminal Justice Review.
24. NIPS has approval in principle from
the Home Office and Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons for
the formalisation of the Inspectorate role in Northern Ireland.
At present Sir David Ramsbotham provides the services of his office
on an informal basis. However, the role of the Inspectorate in
England and Wales is currently being reviewed with a new joint
Prisons/Probation Inspectorate being a distinct possibility. The
review is to report early next year. In Northern Ireland, the
Criminal Justice Review has recommended that a Criminal Justice
Inspectorate be established. It is expected that the Secretary
of State will announce his intentions in relation to the review
by the end of the month.
Prison and Probation Service Links
25. NIPS is fully committed to developing
closer working relationships with the Probation Service. Close
working relationships at many levels already exist and are being
actively promoted by both probation and prisons staff. Service
Level Agreements at establishment level provide clear mechanisms
for the delivery of appropriate services on the ground. A new
NIPS Programmes Board, including probation and other interests,
is working to ensure continuity and consistency and to develop
a common accreditation policy for programmes aimed at tackling
26. The Chief Probation Officer and the
Director General now meet every six months to develop a more co-ordinated
approach on policies and priorities which are common to both services.
A joint senior management conference is being planned in early
2001. In addition a senior member of the Probation Service will
be invited to attend NIPS Management Board meetings when appropriate
items are being discussed. We are also supportive of the Criminal
Justice Review's proposal for an overarching Probation, Prisons
and Juvenile Justice Advisory Board chaired by a Minister and
believe this is the most appropriate forum for the highest level
consideration of correctional policy.
27. In May of this year the Minister endorsed
the recommendation made in Stage One of the Quinquennial Review
that NIPS should remain an Executive Agency. The Stage Two review
report was published in July and acknowledged that our new Statement
of Purpose, Vision and Values (see Annex A below) are properly
reflective of wider Government policies. The review also concluded
that the existing corporate planning, monitoring and reporting
arrangements constitute an effective business planning framework.
Revised Key Performance Indicators against six strategic priorities
were recommended in the report and we will be incorporating these
in both the Framework Document and the Corporate and Business
Plan for 2001-04. A seminar involving senior managers across the
Service together with representatives from each of the three trade
unions is to be held on 26 October to consider how we can achieve
the Quinquennial Review recommendations on Key Performance Indicators
and Targets. Such seminars have been held about every six months
since their introduction following the Northern Ireland Affairs
Committee's consideration of NIPS in 1998. The Framework Document
is in preparation and should be published in December.
16 October 2000