Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs First Report



Costs and Targets

17. There has been a substantial reduction in the Prison Service's operating expenditure over the last three years, from £134.87 million in 1997-98 to £96.9 million in 2000-01, excluding the exceptional provisions for the costs of the Staff Reduction Programme.[31] Cost per prisoner place for 2000-01, forecast to be £77,464, remains stubbornly close to the 1997-98 target figure of £76,552 and significantly greater than the corresponding figures for the Prison Services in England and Wales and in Scotland respectively. The Prison Service has a target of reducing this differential by 17% by March 2004.

18. The Prison Service described a range of factors which in its view contribute to its costs being higher than those in the Prison Service in Great Britain.[32] Many of these can be attributed to the small size of the Service combined with a need to cater for the full range of situations. In essence, the Prison Officers' Association (Northern Ireland) agreed.[33] The Prison Governors' Association (Northern Ireland) also agreed,[34] and drew attention to the difficulty of making meaningful comparisons. The Quinquennial Review accepted that there were significant diseconomies of scale, but concluded that there was "a considerable way to go before it can be claimed that efficiency in all areas is on a par with best practice in Great Britain".[35] We recognise that there are many factors which contribute to the higher costs per prisoner in Northern Ireland. We nonetheless welcome the efforts being made to reduce the differential and look forward to learning how the Prison Service proposes to meet its target of a 17% reduction by March 2004. Benchmarking of individual institutions or functions against equivalents in Great Britain[36] may have a useful part to play in controlling costs.

19. We were pleased to note that, for 2000-01, the Prison Service is on line to meet eight of its nine key targets. We sought further information from Prison Service witnesses about targets not met in 1999-2000,[37] particularly in relation to assaults on staff and prisoners. In this respect, we note that the Quinquennial Review has suggested a number of changes to the Prison Service's Key Performance Indicators and we look forward to seeing how these are taken forward in the light of the new Framework Document.

20. One particularly sensitive area where the Quinquennial Review questioned the proposed indicator is the target for assaults on staff and prisoners respectively. The Review queried the apparent order of magnitude difference between the Northern Ireland target and the much lower target set in Scotland. The Prison Service has informed us that the definition of assault used in Scotland is very much more restrictive than that used in Northern Ireland. At the Prison Service Seminar held on 26 October 2000, senior managers in the Service and representatives from each of the three trade unions considered the application of the Scottish definition and targets to measure good order and control in establishments. It was concluded that the Scottish definition would exclude the vast majority of assaults in Northern Ireland establishments, which are not serious enough to be captured by it, and thus would provide too restricted an indicator of the level of order and control. A new indicator has been adopted, to take effect in April 2001, which is designed to give an accurate picture of the number of staff and prisoners respectively assaulted by prisoners.[38]

The Northern Ireland Prison Service Management Board

21. The Prison Service told us that a new Management Board for the Service had been established. Its core membership is the Director General and the three Directors, to which it is planned to add a number of non-executive directors. The Prison Governors' Association (Northern Ireland) was critical[39] of the absence of any operational Governor from the core membership of the Board. The Association argued that, as a result of the non-inclusion of any governing Governors, there were no core members of the Board who had in-depth knowledge of the Northern Ireland Prison Service.[40] It maintained that governing governors could only formally represent their views through line management, which it considered inadequate. The Association considered that this was "an important deficiency that needs to be corrected."[41]

22. It is clearly important that the Management Board, and particularly its independent members, have an adequate degree of exposure to operational experience. We understand that the current Director of Operations has considerable operational experience as a prison governor, albeit not in the Northern Ireland Prison Service. Reinforcement of his experience with a specific Northern Ireland operational input therefore appears to have certain attractions. On the other hand, there are now only three governing governors in the Northern Ireland Prison Service,[42] and membership of the Management Board would appear to constitute a significant additional burden, particularly for the Governor of HMP Maghaberry, the largest and most diverse in character of the Prison Service establishments. In this context, we recall the difficulties, to which we alluded in our original Report,[43] which arose when the posts of Governor of HMP Maze and Director of Operations were held for a period by the same person. We have noted the concerns expressed by the Prison Governors' Association (Northern Ireland), and invite the Director General to consider both how these might be allayed and how to ensure that the Management Board can most effectively draw on operational experience in the Service.

Servicing the Courts

23. In our original Report, we commented on the heavy burden which court escort duties imposed on the Prison Service, which could have a deleterious impact on the régime of sentenced prisoners. In October 1999, the Prison Service reported[44] that a centralised Prisoner Escort Group had just been established to enable an improved régime to be introduced, which would also enable both efficiency and financial savings to be made. In addition, video hearings for a range of pre-trial hearings, remand hearings and bail applications for persons detained at the Young Offenders Centre were being regularly dealt with over video links at the Royal Courts of Justice and Belfast Magistrates Court.

24. A second phase of the video link projected added HMP Maghaberry to the existing link with Belfast Magistrates Court and the Royal Courts of Justice in May 2000. The Prison Service described some of the benefits which have accrued[45] and we had the benefit of a demonstration of the system when we visited HMP Maghaberry. The system has been the subject of two reviews by Dr Keith Bryett, an independent consultant.[46] The first, in December 1999, dealt with the first phase and the second, in September 2000, covered the extension to HMP Maghaberry.

25. In neither case did Dr Bryett find any evidence of disadvantage for inmates in terms of outcomes of the hearings and, in his second report, he comments:

    "The inmates I interviewed were highly supportive of the video link citing a list of disincentives to travel to the courts."

Both the judiciary and the legal profession preferred the video link, which also facilitates consultations between prisoners and their legal representatives. Dr Bryett did, however, make a number of recommendations relating to matters which in his view required attention if the video link facility is to become a permanent arrangement.

26. The Prison Service plans to extend the video link to Ballymena and Lisburn Magistrates Courts. We welcome this and recommend an early evaluation of the benefits and costs of extending this facility to other Courts in Northern Ireland, in view of the support which the current arrangements appear to enjoy amongst inmates, the judiciary and the legal profession. We hope that the points made by Dr Bryett are taken into account in the planning of any extension. We also congratulate the Service on the improvements that have been achieved in the prisoner escort service since our original Report.

Vulnerable Prisoners

27. In our original Report, we expressed concern about possible implications of the Prison Services's traditional policy of integration of sex offenders and other vulnerable prisoners. We recommended a review of this policy and suggested that the option of a Vulnerable Prisoners Unit, as suggested by the Chief Inspector of Prisons in 1997, be revisited.

28. Although the Government was non-committal about this suggestion in its Response, we were pleased to learn that such a Unit has now been established at HMP Maghaberry. This provides what the Prison Service describes as "a safer environment and a more settled régime"[47] for an average of 30 prisoners at any one time. We visited the Unit as part of our visit to HMP Maghaberry and it seemed to be operating satisfactorily.

Female Young Offenders

29. One area of particular concern to us in our original inquiry was the holding of female juveniles in a building within the estate of HMP Maghaberry. This is a consequence of the lack of any other secure unit for female juveniles in Northern Ireland. The Prison Service, in its October 1999 evidence, described the position as "generally accepted as being unsatisfactory"[48] and drew attention to the small number of female juveniles needing to be held in secure conditions. The Prison Service commented that "every effort is made to provide an environment suitable for a young person, and a juvenile would be permitted to associate with adult prisoners where the only alternative would be an impoverished régime". The Prison Service repeated its concerns in the course of this inquiry.[49]

30. The Criminal Justice Review[50] favoured the construction of more appropriate custodial facilities for both male and female juveniles and the Northern Ireland Office has recently completed a review of the juvenile justice estate.[51] The outcome of this review will be the construction of a new facility. We recommend that the new juvenile justice facility includes secure accommodation suitable for detaining female juveniles, thus enabling the use of Mourne House for this purpose to be phased out as soon as possible.


31. The availability and use of drugs in prisons can cause serious problems. An independent assessment of the level of illegal drugs usage was carried out in 1999 in HMP Magilligan, HMP Maghaberry and HMYOC Hydebank Wood.[52] The Prison Service witnesses told us that this concluded that there was "an element of a drugs culture in each of the prisons in Northern Ireland",[53] but that "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."[54]

32. The independent assessment found that there was a window of opportunity to tackle the drugs problems identified and prevent it growing to serious levels. A number of steps are being taken by the Prison Service in response to the Review, including revised local drugs strategies for each establishment, and exchanges of ideas and strategies with the Irish Prisons Service.[55] Possibilities under consideration include mandatory drug testing, which would require legislation, and an enhancement of education programmes about the dangers of drugs.[56] The Prison Service has also introduced new visiting arrangements at HMP Magilligan, which includes improved measures to prevent drugs smuggling by visitors, and the intention is to extend these to other establishments in due course.[57] Mr Halward was confident that this "will reduce significantly the amount of drugs getting into prison."

33. We welcome the active steps being taken by the Prison Service to seek to minimise the level of drug abuse in its establishments. Although the current level of drug abuse appears to be relatively low, we would encourage the Prison Service to maintain levels of vigilance to ensure that this remains the case.

Other operational matters

34. The closure of HMP Maze, at the end of September, was an event of major significance, as its closure also brought to an end the segregation of prisoners according to political affiliation.[58] It is currently mothballed and its long term future will be determined in the context of the estate review that has recently been started.[59]

35. The closure of HMP Maze does, however, put additional pressures on HMP Maghaberry. We commented in our original report on the key role already played by that prison. There have been reports in the press about pressure from former Maze prisoners for the introduction of a segregated régime at HMP Maghaberry in particular. The Prison Service assured us that these reports were inaccurate[60] and that the ex-Maze prisoners who have gone into normal location at Maghaberry "have not caused us any problems to date."[61] Mr Mogg, Governor of HMP Maze, commented that pressure for segregation is "something just under the surface all the time",[62] but "there is no campaign as such."[63] Both Mr Spratt, of the Prison Officers' Association (Northern Ireland)[64] and Mr McAleer, of the Prison Governors' Association (Northern Ireland),[65] agreed that there was no current problem in this respect.

36. Neither set of union representatives wished to see the reintroduction of segregation of paramilitary prisoners. Nor do we, as we made clear in our original Report.

31  Ev. p. 1. Back

32  Q 31-32 and Ev. p. 16. Back

33  Q 97. Back

34  Q 124. Back

35  Stage One Report, paras. 3.4.7 and 3.4.12. Back

36  See Ev. p. 29 and Q 32. The Quinquennial Review concluded that the market-testing of an entire prison establishment in Northern Ireland was not feasible in current circumstances (Stage One Report, para. 5.4.11). Back

37  Q 24-30. Back

38  Ev. p. 18. Back

39  Ev. p. 29 and Q 120-122. Back

40  Q 123. Back

41  Ev. p. 29 Back

42  The Governors of HMP Maghaberry, HMP Magilligan and HMYOC Hydebank Wood. Back

43  HC 716 (1997-98), para 75. Back

44  HC 866-i, Ev. p. 2. Back

45  Ev.p. 2, See also Q 35. Back

46  Dr Bryett, formerly of Queen's University, Belfast, was the Committee's Specialist Adviser for its inquiry into the composition, recruitment and training of the RUC (Third Report, Session 1997-98, HC 337). Back

47  Ev. p. 3 and Q 45-46. See also Q 93. Back

48  HC 866-i, Ev. p. 2, Q 59-62. Back

49  Ev. p. 3. Back

50  Review of the Criminal Justice System in Northern Ireland, March 2000, paras. 10.79 to 10.84 (p. 241-243). Back

51  Official Report, 29 November 2000, Vol. 357, Col. 637-639W. Back

52  Ev. p.3. Back

53  Q 38. Back

54  Q 39. Back

55  Ev. p. 3. Back

56  Q 39. See also Q 41. Back

57  Ev. p. 3 and Q 38. Back

58  At the time the Prison Service gave evidence, three former prisoners from HMP Maze were held in a separate unit at HMP Maghaberry pending the outcome of an appeal against a refusal to grant judicial review of the decision to remove the remaining prisoners at HMP Maze into integrated conditions; see Q 36.  Back

59  Q 33-34. Back

60  Q 42. Back

61  Q 36. Back

62  Q 42. Back

63  Q 44. Back

64  Q 87, Q 91. Back

65  Q 130, Q 135 Back

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