Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs First Report


The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has agreed to the following Report:—



1. We reported on the Prison Service in Northern Ireland in November 1998.[2] At that time, the Northern Ireland Prison Service (the Prison Service) was on the threshold of very substantial changes. Implementation of the prisoner release provisions of the Belfast Agreement was expected to lead to the release of the overwhelming majority of paramilitary prisoners, with the consequent closure of HMP Maze "by the end of the year 2000".[3] Implementation of the Prison Service Review was about to start and was to coincide with a reduction in the size of the Service consequent on the expected closure of HMP Maze.

2. In that Report, we expressed a number of serious concerns about the state of the Prison Service. These included concerns about the implementation of the Prison Service Review, about morale and about training. As the Government pointed out in its Response[4] to our Report, over half the conclusions and recommendations focused on staff management issues. We therefore took evidence from the Director General, in October 1999,[5] to take stock of progress. He described a number of encouraging developments, including progress on staff reductions,[6] improved levels of training[7] and reduced levels of absenteeism.[8] He also confirmed that HMP Maze was expected to close in July 2000.[9] Our original Report was subsequently debated in Westminster Hall on 27 January 2000.[10]

3. The Prison Service has been subject to a Quinquennial Review by the Government. The timing of the Review, which was announced in December 1999,[11] reflected the fact that the Prison Service would complete five years of operation as an Executive Agency on 31 March 2000. It is government policy that all Executive Agencies should be reviewed no later that than period. In its Stage One report, the review team recommended that the Service should remain an Executive Agency. This recommendation was accepted by Ministers in May 2000.[12] The Stage Two report, which examined how the effectiveness and efficiency with which the Prison Service delivers its services and functions could be further improved in the future, was published in July 2000.[13] The report incorporated a new draft Framework Document for the Prison Service. The final version received Ministerial approval on 21 December 2000 and was published in February 2001.[14]

4. The Prison Service has also been subject to formal external assessment of five of its six sites with a view to achieving recognition as an Investor in People organisation.[15] Assessments have been successfully completed at these sites and HMP Maghaberry, the site not yet formally assessed, will undergo this process in March 2001.

5. In July 2000, we decided to conduct a second, more extensive, follow up to our original inquiry, encompassing also evidence from the Prison Officers' Association (Northern Ireland) and the Prison Governors' Association (Northern Ireland). In November 2000, we also paid another visit to HMP Maghaberry, by then the sole remaining high security prison in Northern Ireland following the closure of HMP Maze in September 2000. We are most grateful to all the witnesses for their evidence and to the Governor and staff of HMP Maghaberry for facilitating our visit.

6. We are also grateful to the two Specialist Advisers to our original inquiry, Professor Anthony Bottoms, Wolfson Professor of Criminology at the University of Cambridge and Dr Andrew Coyle, Director of the International Centre for Prison Studies at King's College, University of London, for their continued involvement in, and assistance with, our inquiries into the Prison Service in Northern Ireland.

7. Taken together, the evidence of October 1999, the Westminster Hall debate of January 2000 and the evidence submitted by the Prison Service in October 2000 provides a detailed account of developments over the last two years or so. This material describes a remarkable transformation of the Prison Service both in size and in its general character. We are impressed by the care and thought that has been put into the process of adapting the Prison Service to its new, more traditional, role and the efficiency with which the process is being carried out. This is a tribute to all concerned, both management and staff. The Prison Service told us that approval in principle has been given for a new medal to recognise the special pressures on the Northern Ireland Prison Service over the last 30 years.[16] We share the delight of the Prison Service that the unique difficulties faced by prison staff in Northern Ireland are to receive official recognition and add our own tribute to them for the way they have carried out their duties, often under immense pressure.

8. In this Report, we highlight progress in a number of key areas of concern to us in the course of our original inquiry, and also comment on several issues that have either emerged over the last couple of years, or have acquired greater significance.

2  Fourth Report, Session 1997-98 (HC 716). Back

3  ibid, para 22. Back

4  See First Special Report, Session 1998-99 (HC 299). Back

5  HC 866-i (1998- 99). Back

6  HC 866-i, Q 4-5. Back

7  HC 866-i, Ev. p. 1, Q 25-26. Back

8  HC 866-i, Ev. p. 1, Q 21-22. Back

9  HC 866-i, Ev. p. 2, Q 32. Back

10  Official Report, 27 January 2000, Vol. 343, Cols. 107-135WH. Back

11  Official Report, 8 December 1999, Vol. 340, Col. 535W. Back

12  Official Report, 11 May 2000, Vol. 349, Col. 457W. Back

13  Official Report, 28 July 2000, Vol. 354, Col. 1005W. Back

14  Official Report, 8 February 2000, Vol. 362, Col.679W. As an interim measure, the text was posted on the Internet in December 2000. See also Ev. p. 4. Back

15  Ev. p. 2. Back

16  Ev. p. 2. See also Q 84. Back

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Prepared 28 February 2001