Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
WEDNESDAY 25 OCTOBER 2000
20. One of the other things which is particularly
impressive about your report is the reduction in absenteeism which
was a considerable problem and we identified that the last time
we took evidence. Can you give us any idea as to how you achieved
this, bearing in mind that every manager in the United Kingdom
will have their ears pricked to hear how you have achieved this
(Mr Halward) There is no real magic to it, it is just
simple good procedures consistently applied. A lot of the problem
with sickness management is that people take their eye off it
really. Everybody knows they should do things like back-to-work
interviews, they should be in touch with their staff when they
are on sick leave, they should look to get people back to work
in ways which ease them back into the workplace rather than bring
them slap bang up against the most difficult aspect of their work.
The way in which we tackle that is to revise our policy a bit.
It turned out that the policy was more or less all right when
it was benchmarked against best practice elsewhere but we established
a steering group, a project team, which had representatives both
of headquarters and establishments to drive this. We worked through
line management, making each manager responsible for his own staff
but not cutting them loose to do it on their own, giving them
the support and guidance which they need. One or two specifics
which have been very helpful are the introduction of a sort of
light duties or back-to-work scheme. We had previously taken the
view that until somebody was fit for all duties they could not
come back to work. We have relaxed that slightly in the interests
of getting people back to work. We have 34 people over the last
year back to work into limited fitness posts, in other words jobs
where they are not doing the full range of duties. Only 15 of
those 34 are still on that scheme: some of the others have got
back to work fully, some have left under the staff reduction programme
and so on. That has enabled us to reduce substantially the number
of people who have left the Service on medical retirement. In
1997, 59 members of the Service retired on medical grounds, it
was still 45 in 1999, this year 17 so far and probably two more
by the end of the year. People who would otherwise have left the
Service we have managed to get back into work. We have tidied
up our support through occupational health with our psychology
21. What about absenteeism reduction targets?
Have you agreed targets across the Service?
(Mr Halward) Yes, we have; yes.
22. What are they?
(Mr Halward) Our target initially is to reduce our
absenteeism through sickness by 30 per cent between the end of
the 1998-99 planning year and March 2001. So it is a 30 per cent
target over two years. We achieved 17 per cent in the first year
which leaves another 13 per cent to achieve. We are confident
that we will achieve that. A disappointing number of those leaving
under the staff reduction programme were ill towards the end of
their time in the Service but we have taken another huge step
forward in the last month or so. Sickness absence at Maghaberry,
for example, was at one stage running as high as 14 per cent at
its worst, 11 per cent fairly consistently. It is down to 5.5
23. Are we talking about long-term sickness
rather than Mondays and Fridays or is an occasional one-day absenteeism
a problem too?
(Mr Halward) Much less so. The biggest problem is
people who are on sick leave for quite some time. One of our big
changes is to try to get on to those people very quickly. When
they reach a point round about the two-week mark where there is
a danger of people getting used to being on sick leave they have
much more contact at home and discussion about how they will come
back to work. I should say that we have quite a large proportion
of staff as far as I am concerned who are sick directly as a result
of something which has happened at work. Across the Service as
a whole 20 per cent of those on sick leave at any one time are
as a result of either assaults by prisoners, or some other prisoner
activity, a fire which produces smoke inhalation, for example.
Sometimes a fire or an assault can lead to stress related issues.
Twenty per cent of staff are absent for those reasons.
24. I should like to tease out a few things
about performance against targets. The Service has performed commendably
well against the targets set for it. However, the annual report
reveals that the target for breaches of order and control was
not met. To what do you attribute this and what are you doing
to seek to reduce the number of assaults? How do your targets
and achievements in this area compare with those elsewhere in
the United Kingdom?
(Mr Halward) It is very difficult to answer that last
question because each of the Services defines things in slightly
different ways. We have changed the target for this current year
on what I would call the good order target. We do not have the
same target this year. This year we have switched to that which
is particularly important to us, which is assaults on staff and
assaults on prisoners. One of the reasons we did that is that
the breaches of good order target had a hugely wide definition
because it was about incidents. So you would score one if you
had a wing destroyed in a riot: you would also score one if a
particularly difficult prisoner did a certain amount of damage.
We agreed with Ministers that it really was not much use as a
guide to what was going on in the Service. The main area of difficulty
in the year covered in the annual report was unconvicted prisoners,
both adults and youngsters, and there were one or two individual
prisoners who were responsible for huge numbers of those incidents.
In a small service, one person who commits incident after incident
causes a disproportionate effect on the figures. When we have
one woman prisoner for example who has assaulted staff on 22 separate
occasions; that sort of thing really skews your figures.
25. Do you consider that the new targets are
much more representative?
(Mr Halward) Yes. Our problem at the moment is not
so much the damage to property, which was a problem when the target
up to and including 1999-2000 was set. It was set at a time when
we were getting wings burned down and riots and so on. Our real
concern now is the personal safety aspect for staff and prisoners.
We have two separate targets for that and we want to ratchet that
down year on year until we get it down to zero. That is probably
26. What are the "operational constraints"
which prevent meeting the targeted level of sentence planning
at Maghaberry and Magilligan prisons? Maybe you could define a
bit more clearly what "sentence planning" actually means.
(Mr Mogg) Sentence planning is the business of sitting
down with a prisoner and looking at his offending behaviour and
deciding what you can offer to do with him in prison to change
that offending behaviour. It is fair to say that the culture in
Northern Ireland, by virtue of the paramilitary terrorist influence,
was that really there was nothing wrong with them, they were fighting
for a cause, that was why they had committed their crimes, the
ethos was that really sentence planning was not part of the business
of the Service. It is only this last year really that we have
been able to get to grips with this. Certainly at Maghaberry we
are building in what we are calling a progressive regime where
prisoners will be given extra privileges above those which they
automatically get when they come into prison, but in order to
achieve those privileges they have to behave themselves, they
have to go to work, they have to cooperate with sentence planning
and so on and so forth. That is new for Northern Ireland. The
fact is that that is not the way the prisons operated there in
the past. Therefore you are trying to change the culture of both
the staff and the prisoners, because neither of these things were
the way things were done, the whole way the approach to imprisonment
in Northern Ireland was different from England, Wales and Scotland.
Work was one of the issues of the hunger strikes and so on and
it became voluntary almost, time was filled with extensive visits,
much higher ratio of visits than there would be on the mainland.
Sentence planning as a concept is relatively new and it is a case
of pushing it forward.
27. Now that many of the prisoners who were
there for political reasons are now out the situation should improve.
(Mr Mogg) Yes, it should improve. We would not recognise
now that any prisoner is in any way excluded from this process
irrespective of who they are.
28. How far short of the three per cent target
did the Service fall in 1999-2000 in its percentage increase in
average constructive activity hours and what were the "operational
priorities" which prevented this, particularly at Maghaberry?
Could you have done better had you retained more staff?
(Mr Halward) I am afraid I cannot remember precisely
how far we fell short of that target. I think we got about two
per cent and it was supposed to be three per cent. I suppose the
answer is that if we had retained more staff it would have helped
us. However, a problem we have had to contend with quite understandably
is that staff who have decided they want to leave the Service
and see their future as outside the Service, want to get on with
those futures as quickly as possible and therefore we have given
quite a high priority to allowing staff to leave the Service.
That has not worsened the staffing position in any establishment.
One could have transferred staff who became surplus at Maze into
other establishments to help with that target but we judged that
for last year that improvement was not as high a priority as getting
through the transition of the Service.
29. Could you expect some improvement in that
then during the coming year and the years ahead?
(Mr Halward) Absolutely; yes. We have quite a challenging
target in that area this year which is slightly different and
is about utilisation of available places, the number of our places
which we take up. For next year and beyond, as a result of the
quinquennial review of the Prison Service, we shall have an even
tougher target on both the length of the constructive day for
prisoners and also on things like offending behaviour programmes.
(Mr Mogg) The only other point which is worth making
on this is that the last time we were here we talked about the
introduction of the court escort group as a separate entity from
Maghaberry. The effect of that is that it has taken away from
Maghaberry the continual drain of staff to take prisoners out
to court. That is now being ring fenced as a separate unit which
deals with that. The effect of that is that there has not been
the same disruption of the normal regime at Maghaberry and as
a consequence of that obviously the constructive activity hours
have improved and will continue to improve.
30. You will agree this is a very important
(Mr Mogg) Absolutely. The whole emphasis is on sentence
planning, constructive activity and certainly since I have been
at Maghaberry one of the main shifts has been away from pointless
association with each other to activities which are constructive
and are designed to meet the needs of prisoners in terms of changing
their offending behaviour. The whole thrust of the prison has
changed and I think it is very important.
31. The Service is meeting the target on the
cost per prisoner place, but I understand that the cost per prisoner
place is still about three times as high as it is in England,
Wales and Scotland. As the prisoner population normalises by comparison
with the other countries would you expect the costs to drop in
the same way or are there other reasons why it is so much higher?
(Mr Halward) It will certainly drop, but I am not
prepared at this stage to say by how much I think it will drop.
We are committed to reducing the differential in cost between
Northern Ireland and England and Wales by 17 per cent over the
three years starting in April 2001. Some of the factors in the
increased costs are historically the nature of the prison population.
It is fair to say that although that prison population is a more
normal prison population perhaps than has been the case in the
past it is still nowhere near a normal population and there are
still a lot of people in prison in Northern Ireland. Also, we
have a different proportion of unconvicted and convicted prisoners
in Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. Unconvicted prisoners
tend to take more resources. They are entitled to more visits
for example and a range of other things. With our young offender
population we have actually more unsentenced, unconvicted prisoners
than we have sentenced prisoners. I cannot give you a precise
figure for England and Wales but it would be very small. Most
of our expenditure of course goes on staff costs; something like
85 per cent of our expenditure. Our staff get paid significantly
more than staff in the rest of the UK in recognition of the pressures
of the job in the past. However, we are talking about something
like 25 per cent more across the whole range from auxiliary upwards,
all the operational grades, which is quite an add-on. There are
also diseconomies of scale. We have to allow for every group of
prisoners in custody, despite the fact that they are tiny numbers.
The most graphic example is the female population where we only
have 20 but that is broken down into adults, youngsters, sentenced,
unsentenced. Because some mothers are entitled to have babies
in prison with them we even have to provide three tiny mother
and baby units to allow for the different categories. All those
things add on to the costs and our overheads, our headquarters
costs, although we are taking some steps to reduce those, will
also add to the cost. We are certainly going to be on a downward
path over the next few years but it is going to be very hard work
to reduce costs while continuing to motivate staff. It is not
feasible for example not to give people pay rises for ten years
while rates adjust themselves and contingencies are more difficult
in a small service. In a large service with 40,000 staff you can
assume that you can draw staff from 135 establishments, as you
can in England and Wales. We only have three establishments now
so we have to be careful about that. Indeed one of the advantages
of the courts group to which Mr Mogg referred earlier is that
it gives us a group of staff on whom we could draw in an emergency.
So those are some of the factors.
32. That is very helpful. It does strike me
that even with a 17 per cent reduction over three years the proportion
will still be about two and a half times the rest of the UK. It
would encourage our confidence that the issue was being addressed
as far as possible if it were possible to get a review of the
reasons for the extra costs, the ones which you have just identified,
and the impact they had and the extent to which they could be
addressed. All of us who have worked in any kind of a downsizing
environment know that there are many reasons why costs are as
they are. It is quite possible to have the multiplicity of those
act as a disincentive to attack any individual one; whenever you
look at one people say it is all because of the other reasons.
I do not know whether in addition to the specific savings programme
you have, whether you would feel able to do some kind of analysis
of this over the next year or so.
(Mr Halward) Yes; indeed.
We are committed to 17 per cent but precisely how we achieve that
has yet to be decided. We have identified a number of approaches,
benchmarking some of the services in certain areas, reviews of
how we have run certain functions, a whole range of ways in which
we intend to address that so we can make sure that is sufficiently
broad to tackle the longer term issue.
33. When do you expect a decision to be reached
on the future of the Maze? Do you have any kind of feel for that?
I realise it is not within your powers.
(Mr Halward) No. For the timebeing we need the Maze.
It is mothballed, it is available for use as necessary. The reason
for that is the contingency point, you could spread prisoners
around 135 other prisons in England and Wales but we have to accept
the possibility we might get a fire or something which takes accommodation
out of use, so we need part at least of it for those purposes.
We had Belfast prison, the Crumlin Road site, available to us
until quite recently but steps are now being taken to dispose
of that. We have just embarked on an estate review which is looking
at what our physical needs in the Service would be in the medium
to long-term and that will include what we do by way of contingency
accommodation. For example we might move out of some of our unsatisfactory
residential accommodation, cellblocks in other units, Maghaberry
or Magilligan, keep those available for contingency accommodation
and have some better designed buildings to use.
34. So the Maze will be around in mothballed
state for some time yet.
(Mr Halward) Yes. Certainly I do not envisage a decision
in weeks and probably not in months.
35. Has the introduction of the video link system
between courts and prisons had any effect on the number or the
length of remands in custody?
(Mr Halward) We have not seen any evidence of that.
The benefits it has had are on the number of people going out
to courts which is an expensive business in itself, taking people
to and from courts. It also puts a lot of pressure on those bits
of the prison which have to discharge prisoners in the morning
and bring them back in the evening and it has given prisoners
a less disturbed time in custody. We were pleasantly surprised
at how both adult and youngsters responded to the video link.
The received wisdom is that people like to go out to court for
the day. When the video link was introduced we discovered that
most were quite happy to have their court appearancesonly
bail and routine remand hearings can be dealt with in this wayby
video link and then get back to the business of workshops, education
visits or whatever. In theory it also ought to impact on things
like money spent on legal aid because lawyers can have consultations
with their clients over the video link rather than visiting the
prison, but it is quite difficult to capture some of those costs
because they are not within our direct control.
36. What, if any, difficulties have arisen over
the integration of the few remaining paramilitary prisoners into
the non-segregated regimes of prisons other than the Maze? Did
you make any concessions, given their unusual status? Were there
any problems about that if you did?
(Mr Halward) I shall ask Mr Mogg to comment on the
general policy because Maghaberry is where most people who might
have that label attached to them are actually held. Everybody
in Northern Ireland at the moment is held in normal conditions
with the exception of three prisoners. There was a judicial review
of our decision to remove the remaining prisoners out of the Maze
into integrated conditions in the Service. We won the first round
of the judicial review but there was an appeal against that. So
that we could get the Maze closed pending appeal we have three
prisoners held in a separate unit at Maghaberry. The unit does
not have any of the features commonly associated with the Maze
regime and much criticised. In other words, there is no 24-hour
unlock and there are no "no-go" areas for staff or any
of that sort of thing. We are optimistic that we shall be able
to bring that unique position to an end very quickly. All other
prisoners are in integrated conditions. Mr Mogg is responsible
for managing it at Maghaberry.
(Mr Mogg) The ex-Maze prisoners who have gone into
normal location at Maghaberry have not caused us any problems
to date. Because of the situation in Northern Ireland, particularly
the Loyalist feud and some other ongoing difficulties between
different groups there are some prisoners whom I have to segregate
for their own safety. I have individuals who are under threat
of death from other groups and obviously one has to be quite careful
about how that is handled. The only segregation we have at Maghaberry
is the segregation of people because they are at risk from others.
To date there has been no sustained campaign from any particular
group trying to get back the Maze conditions or to be separated
from others. Obviously there are groups which will gravitate to
others they went to school with or lived as neighbours and it
is something which one has to try to manage to make sure that
does not escalate into something greater than that. Probably the
thing which determines it more than anything else is the attitude
of the community, whether there is any pressure on individuals
in the prison to push for segregation because of pressure on their
families outside. There is no real evidence that is around so
37. While the Maze was in operation it had been
alleged that the drugs empire of certain individuals had reached
the extent that one of them, according to newspaper reports, was
profiting to the tune of about £1,500 a week from drugs sold
within the prison. Do you regard those reports as accurate or
(Mr Halward) The difficulty with answering any question
about drugs in prison is that I cannot say, and I do not think
anybody in my position could say, that there are no drugs in prison.
That was manifestly absurd. We know there are some drugs in prison
and it is almost impossible to prevent drugs being smuggled into
prison unless you adopt an approach to visits between prisoners
and their families which is generally regarded as inhumane these
days, in other words, no physical contact at all. I shall say
a bit in a minute about what we are doing short of that to stop
drugs getting in. We know there are some drugs in prison. What
we do not know is whether what we findand we have finds
from time to timeis one per cent, ten per cent, 50 per
cent of 100 per cent of what is in prison. I tend to regard the
more extreme tales as exaggeration but I cannot actually disprove
38. In paragraph 16 of your memorandum you refer
to an independent assessment having been carried out. Who carried
out that independent assessment and what was the conclusion of
(Mr Halward) The independent assessment was carried
out by a chap called Murray who is an adviser on drugs matters
to the Scottish Prison Inspector whom we invited to come to Northern
Ireland in the middle of 1999 to spend some time in each of our
establishments and give us his assessment of the extent of the
drugs problem, for want of a better way of describing it, in each
establishment. I do not think he looked at Maze because we were
in the process of closing Maze and there were certain unique features
about Maze which were not relevant to the future. In summary what
he concluded was that there was an element of a drugs culture
in each of the prisons in Northern Ireland, as he would have expected
had he been to any prison anywhere in the UK. He gave us some
specific bits of advice about how we might go about tackling that
in each establishment, bits of advice to do with procedures and
review teams and working with the community and things of that
sort. In the light of his audit of each establishment the establishments
have been revising their drugs policies and practice to introduce
appropriate measures. An example of what we have done is at Magilligan
where we have a new visits system which has much more effective
searching of prisoners and visitors than was the case in the past,
together with the positive identification of all visitors. There
is also a drugs dog. It includes things like a second line of
defence where if either prisoners or their visitors go to the
toilet during a visiting period they have to be completely searched
again because drugs are often concealed in body cavities and therefore
visits to the toilet are necessary and the drugs could be handed
over afterwards. It is a whole series of measures of that sort.
They are being trialled at Magilligan. Our intention is to introduce
them into both the Young Offenders' Centre and Maghaberry. We
are confident that will reduce significantly the amount of drugs
getting into prison.
39. Did I understand you to say that Mr Murray
had concluded that the level of illegal drug abuse was something
similar to what one might have expected in other prisons in the
(Mr Halward) No, on the whole it is rather below what
you would find in the rest of the UK, which reflects the fact
that in Northern Ireland as a whole the level of drug abuse is
lower than that in the rest of the UK. What he found was an element
of drugs and what he was broadly saying to us was that we have
a bit of a problem now and there is a window of opportunity in
which to tackle this and prevent it becoming a big problem. Our
intention is to tackle it before it becomes a big problem. We
are doing a review of prisons legislation and one of the things
we are considering there is mandatory drug testing. We already
have some units where we have voluntary drug testing in the Service,
where prisoners volunteer to be drug tested and in return for
that they get slightly better conditions in some respects than
would otherwise be the case.
(Mr Bain) Another element of this is educating prisoners
about the dangers of drugs. We have done that for years but we
have realised that perhaps, particularly to the young offenders,
the message is much better put across by drug workers from the
community of roughly the same age as the young offenders than
by our dedicated staff. We have obtained grants to do that both
at the Young Offenders' Centre and at Magilligan; work is in hand
at Maghaberry along the same lines. The initial assessment of
that is that the message has got across at least to some of the
people it is targeting.
3 See Ev p 16. Back