Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
WEDNESDAY 1 NOVEMBER 2000
80. Good afternoon, gentlemen. There has been
welcome progress in the reduction of absenteeism, to what is this
(Mr Spratt) It is really hard to put a finger on it.
Certainly we have argued consistently for a number of years that
the management of absenteeism should be done at the lowest level
in the Service. The principal officer on the ground should be
the person who should monitor the sick and the staff under his
control. That was not happening. Recently what we call group managers
have become more involved in the monitoring of the sick. They
know the individuals better on the ground. We recently introduced
a new management monitoring process, and I have to say, agreed
by the Association, with one exception, and that was the trigger
points. The management of the Northern Ireland Prison Service
believe that if an officer reaches 10 days sick in any 12 months,
10 calendar days, he should get a warning about his sick. We do
not accept that. We believe that 10 calendar days is not right.
We would certainly agree with 10 working days. Certainly greater
emphasis is now being placed on sickness. They have introduced
a limited fitness post to bring people back to work and there
is certainly a greater effort being put into that, Mr Beggs.
81. Was the union consulted on the setting of
specific absence reduction targets and are you satisfied with
the plans that have been introduced to ensure that there is proper
support for individual members of staff in future and with the
arrangements to ease staff back into work through, as you just
said, the limited fitness programmes?
(Mr Spratt) We are certainly satisfied with the opportunity
to ease people back into work. We are not entirely satisfied that
the proper supports are there to support people who have been
assaulted, and so on and so forth. In relation to the figures,
yes, we agreed that 10 days was reasonable, but we said it should
be 10 working days. Management ignored that and implemented the
procedure using ten calendar days. The reason we said ten working
days is the shift patterns that prison officers work in Northern
Ireland. We work an average 38 hour week across a shift cycle,
which could be anything up to 14 or 15 weeks. This week I could
work 46 hours, next week I could work 44 hours and the next week
I could work 38 hours. For working that I could have five rest
days. If I happen to go sick the day before my five rest days
and I am sick a day after, then I am credited with seven days
sick, when in actual fact I worked the hours previous to it to
have these five rest days off. The management would not see that.
We accepted that there was a problem of sickness in the Northern
Ireland Prison Service. We accepted that there is a monitoring
procedure laid town in the Pay and Conditions Code that applies
to all civil servants. We accepted that the Prison Service was
not unique. We wanted to address the issue as much as management
in relation to sickness, because that had a knock-on effect on
the rest of our members, and we accepted that we would bring in
a procedure that was applicable to the Prison Service. They wanted
us to use part of the procedure we agreed but they wanted us to
hold on to the old parts of the code. You cannot have your cake
and eat it, you have one procedure. They went ahead and implemented
the procedures using calendar days, which we do not agree with.
82. The Service has performed commendably well
against the targets set for it. The Annual Report reveals that
the target for breaches of order and control for a number of years
has not been met by a significant margin. To what do you attribute
this? What steps are you taking that would help the Service to
reduce the number of assaults by prisoners on each other and on
(Mr Spratt) That is a very hard thing to quantify
and a very difficult question to answer. From my experience we
have had lots of assaults in Maghaberry, and it was through a
lot of fires and things that were going on. Only up until recently
management of the Prison Service was not prepared to deal with
these prisoners. We made a suggestion quite some time ago over
the fires that were happening in Maghaberry, which led to assaults
on staff, that prisoners should not be allowed to carry a lighter.
In fact we said that if a prisoner required a light there should
be a facility for them to get a light. Nobody would implement
that. We are hoping that over a period of time we can get to grips
with that. Certainly it was a major problem.
83. Thank you. Again referring you to the letter
you sent to Dr Power, in which you are critical of the calibre
of training offered to inmates, that is paragraph 3.5 on page
19, how would you like to see this training changed? What steps
has the Association taken to seek to bring about changes in this
area? What response have you received from the Service and from
(Mr Spratt) We certainly received no response from
other prisoner organisations. I do not think they like talking
to the Prison Officers Association. As prison officers we are
very conscious of the fact we are working with people. We are
conscious of the factwe have made this point pretty oftenthe
training offered to prisoners within the penal system did not
reflect what is happening outside. For example, who wants to know
about knitting jumpers and knitting socks and stuff like that,
all that type of training? I have always argued that the Prison
Service should provide training that reflects the requirements
outside and always try to place these people in jobs as they leave
the Service. They have set up a few more IT courses. They are
re-looking at the programme and I think they are trying to bring
the programme more into line with what is required outside. A
lot was outdated for a long time.
84. Would you like to bring us up-to-date in
the Committee with what is happening with regard to the Prison
(Mr Spratt) The Prison Officers Association and other
interested bodies in Northern Ireland have for some time campaigned
that prison officers should be given a medal in recognition of
the contribution they have given to society in Northern Ireland
over the past 30 years. Nobody paid much heed to it until Mr Blair
came across to Stormont prior to the referendum and prison officers
took the opportunity to raise it with him. He could see merit
in awarding prison officers this medal. We then had negotiations
with the Northern Ireland Office and we laid down what we believed
the criteria would be, that it should be given to prison officers
and to anybody in the Prison Service who lost their lives, whether
that be a prison officer or a civil servant. Our view was it was
for prison officers. When it was announced our staff were elated
that they were going to get this medal. What has transpired is
we have now discovered that all civil servants who worked in the
Prison Service will get the medal. If you are a clerk who sat
in the Northern Ireland Office for five years you are going to
get a medal. The prison officers feel bad about that. They were
the people at the coal face. The Secretary of State said that
the medal was awarded to prison officers for their courage and
dedication during the 30 years of trouble. They feel that the
medal should be awarded to prison officers, and certainly recognise
those civil servants, for example, Mr Leslie Jarvis, who was a
civilian instructor at Magilligan, who lost his life in Londonderry
outside Magee University. There should be some provision that
people like that, who made the supreme sacrifice because of their
connection with prisons, should be recognised. We believe that
is where it should stop. The prison officers that I represent
are angry, so much so that some of them are considering giving
the medal back. We did make representations to the Northern Ireland
Office. It appears everything we said has been totally ignored.
I remember, Mr Beggs, not many years ago that civil servants would
not go into a prison in Northern Ireland, they would not be seen
going in a gate, that is fact. In relation to the medal, yes,
we are delighted, prison officers are looking forward to getting
it. It should be recognised in some way how it is going to presented,
not like they did with the RUC medals, when they just put them
in their pigeon hole, which means nothing. I have made representations
to the Northern Ireland Office that some recognition by media
presence or the Secretary of State should be there to present
the medal. The people that I represent are telling me quite clearly
that the medals should be for prison officers, but people are
not listening, that is the impression I am getting.
85. Before I turn to Mr Barnes, let me follow
up on the question Mr Beggs just asked you. You said that you
felt that what you had said, I was not clear whether it was an
oral submission or in writing, had been ignored. If it was, in
fact, face-to-face rather than in writing, there must have been
some response at the time that you made the point?
(Mr Spratt) Yes. It was certainly face-to-face, Mr
Chairman, with a meeting at the Northern Ireland Office. People
were wanting a medal for one year's service. We felt really to
have a medal for one year's service would really demean a medal,
because that is what happened to the RUC, we felt it should be
five years, only to discover that when the submission was made
by the Northern Ireland Office to the Ceremonial Office they recommend
a year and a half. However, the Ceremonial Office turned down
the year and a half and came down on the side of five years. The
people that I made the case to totally ignored the representation
that I made on behalf of our members.
86. When you made the submission did they absorb
it? I can recall circumstances where I might have been on the
other side of the table where there would certainly have been
a form of words I was going to communicate to you which would
have had a greater or lesser degree of enthusiasm about them.
They would have been more than just simply accepting, as I say,
absorbing what you were saying.
(Mr Spratt) They took aboard the comments we had made
and then they said they were consulting with other interested
parties. The point was, before the recommendation went to the
Ceremonial Office we were not aware of the recommendations that
went from the Northern Ireland Office. I would have thought it
would have been courteous to consult with us and say, "Look,
we have now consulted everyone, this is what we propose to put
to the Ceremonial Office", it did not happen that way.
87. I would like to ask about the integration
of the few remaining paramilitary prisoners into non-segregated
regimes of prison, other than the Maze. What difficulty has that
produced for your members?
(Mr Spratt) At the moment it is not producing any
difficulty because these people see there is a way out for them.
At the moment they are keeping them separated in Maghaberry because
there is a judicial review on-going in relation to those three
prisoners, so they have them separate at the moment. If the prisoners
lose the judicial review then I do not know what the response
is going to be. It is certainly not posing any problems at this
point in time.
88. What do you see as being anticipated problems
in Maghaberry? It has a wide range of prisoners, has it not?
(Mr Spratt) I do not want to see Maghaberry becoming
another Maze; that is my biggest fear. We have many dissident
paramilitary prisoners in Northern Ireland and my biggest fear
is if the push comes again for segregation in relation to paramilitary
factions. If the management of the Prison Service or the Government,
to that effect, are going to recognise these people then I think
it is a retrograde step. We should proceed on the basis that prisoners
are prisoners and we should learn a lesson from what happened
at the Maze and let us not go down that road again. Prison officers
paid with their lives for policies pursued by various Governments.
As a representative I do not want to see it happen. Certainly
I am conscious of the fact there possibly could be a push. If
we send a clear message, it does not matter what push, we will
not be going down the road of the Maze. I know there are people
in the Northern Ireland Prison Service talking already about managing
these people within segregated conditions. We tried that in the
Maze and it just does not work.
89. There are two questions, there is the segregation
of paramilitary prisoners from each other and the segregation
of paramilitary prisoners from other prisoners. Do you feel the
same in response to both those issues?
(Mr Spratt) I feel they are all prisoners. I believe
they should all be housed according to their sentence. Lifers
have a different regime to people who are doing different years.
I do not think we should have any that are paramilitary prisoners
if the Good Friday Agreement means anything. We should take the
opportunity of the Good Friday agreement to get away from that
and start treating all of the prisoners the same and house them
90. How strong is your attitude amongst your
(Mr Spratt) That would be the view of my members.
91. You are generally reflecting that. Last
week one of the Prison Service witnesses said although there is
no overt campaign in Maghaberry at present to seek the introduction
of segregation of paramilitary prisoners it is something that
is just under the surface all of the time. What you are indicating
is that you do not feel that that is the case?
(Mr Spratt) What I meant was we were coming under
no great pressure within Maghaberry, but it is always there underneath.
In fact it eased off quite a bit recently. The feedback that I
am getting from our membership in Maghaberry is there is that
element from these dissident organisations that are there. I also
think the witness last week made reference that prison officers
were not under so much pressure as we were. I would take issue
with that, because in April this year we had an officer's home
attacked in Lurgan, his car was petrol bombed and they attempted
to put a petrol bomb through his window. In September in Bangor
another prison officer's home was attacked. Prison officers in
Northern Ireland are not enjoying the benefit of the ceasefire
from paramilitary factions. It is still there.
92. Is the pressure that exists, pressure from
the paramilitary prisoners themselves, in order to create a similar
regime to the one they are used to?
(Mr Spratt) That would be my view, yes.
93. Just following up on Mr Barnes's question
in terms of this campaign that is always under the surface, as
far as segregation is concerned, does the introduction of the
Vulnerable Prison Unit play any part in, perhaps, the thinking
of paramilitary organisations in terms of how segregation could
(Mr Spratt) There is no doubt that a paramilitary
prisoner will use any system that he possibly can. I think the
Vulnerable Prison Unit has not intended that we should house people
of that type. It is more to do with prison officers, policemen
and people of that nature. They will certainly try and use it,
if there is a possibility of them doing it. The management should
obviously be aware of the situation and be ready for that, because
they will exploit any situation they possibly can.
94. Moving on to matters at Maghaberry, you
mentioned earlier on in your evidence that there were an extraordinarily
high number of fires. Over three years I believe that 400 people
have been injured within Maghaberry, mainly as a result of fires.
I wonder if you could tell us if that figure is accurate? It was
originally reported in the press and it would be interesting to
know if there is an inaccuracy there, but also if you could go
on to say whether or not there is a particular problem, obviously
there is, regarding the incidence of fires, and, if so, to what
do you attribute it?
(Mr Spratt) I could not comment on whether the figure
is accurate or not. I know there was a substantial amount of staff
with smoke inhalation, I have never summarised how many. I would
have thought at that time all of those fires were attributablewe
still had the Maze on-going. We had people being sentenced and
sent to Maghaberry who had affiliations with the paramilitary
organisations outside and within the Maze and they were not sent
to the Maze, they were kept in Maghaberry. The view was these
fires, and all of the disruption, was being created to try and
get them to be moved out to the Maze. That is where most of the
problems were coming from. Now with the Maze closed, hopefully,
we will not have that problem. It will be a segregation issue,
if anything, in the future.
95. Of those 400 injuries, I appreciate you
cannot, as you said, say that figure is or is not correct, were
the majority to prison officers or to prisoners?
(Mr Spratt) The majority were to prison officers.
Most of the fires were all smoke orientated, rather than flames.
Prison officers were finding that prisoners were locked in their
cells and they were attempting to get them out, so they were suffering
from smoke inhalation, that is where most of those injuries came
96. Finally, spreading the net a little bit
wider, apart from the fires, are there any particular problems
in the running of the various establishments you would wish to
bring to the attention of the Committee?
(Mr Spratt) I think there is a problem at the moment
in relation to the staff reduction programme, I have to say. In
fact, we had agreement with the management of the Northern Ireland
Prison Service when they opened the package up to everybody that
in actual fact we would have replacements in place before officers
could leave. There were 23 officers that applied for the redundancy
package. Unfortunately management did not live up to their obligations
to ensure that those people were retained in the Service until
the replacements were put in place and we have a lot of workshops
closed in Maghaberry, in the YOC and Magilligan. I think prisoners
are not being properly utilised. It is going to be quite some
time, it is going to be at least another two months before we
have these instructors in place.
97. I am very impressed, in fact, by the comments
you make about retraining. I remember when I was in Dartmoor the
most popular job was painting plastic garden gnomes, which appears
to have no linkage with future careersmaybe it was the
fumes from the paint or not, I do not know. The idea of having
an IT suite is very much to your credit and demonstrates the very
positive and forward looking way the Prison Officers Association
is setting out to install in Northern Ireland, and I praise you
for that. Mr Spratt I also praise you for your marvellous style
in your letter to Dr Power, you do not take prisonersthat
is probably the wrong expressionyou do not mince your words.
You state in the letter, "There is much which the Prison
Service can do to offer better value for money to the taxpayer".
In your 1998 memo you expressed yours and the Prison Officers
Association's disappointment that the cost of a prisoner was not
falling very significantly and it was difficult to achieve efficiency
gains brought about from the efforts of your members. How could
greater efficiencies be made?
(Mr Spratt) I am glad you asked that question. I do
not subscribe to the view that the cost of prisoners in Northern
Ireland equates to Great Britain. You cannot take the Northern
Ireland Prison Service and compare it to the English Prison Service
or the Scottish Prison Service. We only have three establishments
in Northern Ireland. We do not have the opportunity of spreading
that across low costs, for example. We do not have open prisons,
we do not have any of that. In actual fact, if you take Maghaberry
Prison, and if you look at the review by Dr Power, he said when
you compare the coal face figures with any establishment in England
they equate roughly on par with them. This figure of £77,000
and then the English one is what I call creative accountancy.
Any accountant will let figures tell you what you want them to
tell you. I challenge that, let them compare like with like. Dr
Power said the coal face figures, that is the officer's that work
with prisoners, broadly equates to England and Wales. Where the
other discrepancies are, in relation to periphery posts, gates
and security, we in Northern Ireland have a different situation
to the mainland. We need more external posts than England and
Wales because of the security situation. I am not saying that
we need them for the future, if things settle down, but at this
point in time we need them. In that paragraph I also refer to
the increase in Civil Service posts. If I can give you an example,
as the Chairman of the Prison Officers' Association I get a bit
upset at times because everybody seem to be attacking the prison
officers. They always want to pull the costs down and pull the
savings out of prison officers. In 1994 prison officers did all
of the clerical functions in the Northern Ireland Prison Service.
The management at that time approached us and said, "Look,
we do not need prison officers to do clerical work, we can do
it with civil servants for less money". That is a very strong
argument. We as a Union had to recognise it was a strong argument.
We accepted we will recruit civil servants to do the job that
prison officers do. In 1994 the amount of officer clerks in the
YOC, Magilligan, Maghaberry and the PSCthese are the four
establishments we have left at this point in the timewas
54, the amount of civil servants doing those jobs today is 102.
These are facts. These are not fiction. Everybody attributed the
cost per prison to prison officers. All can say is, I do not believe
it and I would challenge them. If they compare like with like
I believe that the cost per prisoner placed in Northern Ireland
will come out as favourable to what is happening in England, Wales
98. That is now on the record, Mr Spratt, and
that will be followed up. When you said everyone is attacking
the prison officers, it is not for me to speak for this Committee,
but I would like to say I have heard no such attacks from any
Member of this Committee.
(Mr Spratt) I did not mean this Committee.
99. Most of us recognised that the sacrifice
that many of your members made has been the ultimate sacrifice
and the courage you showed more than merits the award of a medal.
I speak for all of us when I say how much we respect the work
your members have done. On the point about civilian prison auxiliaries
working in there, in the rest of the United Kingdom there is a
much higher percentage of civilians working within the prison
estate. I accept your point about the different conditions, do
you see an increase in that usage? Even from your previous figures
they are not as cost-effective as may have been indicated.
(Mr Spratt) From where we sit at this point in time
I believe that we have turned over as many jobs as we possibly
can at this point in time to auxiliaries. In fact we have 242
auxiliaries on the discipline side, we have something like 25
auxiliary cook officers and something like 30 auxiliary trade
officers, that is what we brought in. As a representative of prison
officers and auxiliaries I have also the pressure from the other
side. If you are an auxiliary in the Northern Ireland Prison Service
you will end up with a salary of £16,000. That auxiliary
argues to me very strongly, and there is merit in what they say,
they join the Prison Service, they are in a dead-end job, because
they are not going anywhere, and there is no promotion for them,
there is no way out. He is saying to me, "I am getting £16,000,
this officer here is getting £28,000, and I am basically
doing the same job. There is so much unrest amongst the prison
auxiliaries in the Northern Ireland Prison Service that is going
to drive to unsettlement. We have had a very stable, industrial
relationship up to this point. It is getting to the stage where
the auxiliaries in Northern Ireland are as far as they can go.
I feel sorry for those auxiliaries, because they are all young
men and women, well educated in a dead end job.