Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs First Report



44. The following are the Committee's summarised principal conclusions and recommendations:

(a)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 (Paragraph 7).
(b)We congratulate the management and staff of the Prison Service, and the unions concerned, on the success of the Staff Reduction Programme and on the constructive way in which they handled the potentially difficult challenge of reducing staff levels following the release of paramilitary prisoners under the Good Friday Agreement (Paragraph 11).
(c)We would encourage the Prison Service to seek to ensure that through its training programme and suitable secondments where appropriate it develops the skills of its staff to the extent that it can produce good internal candidates for the highest posts in the Service. In a small Service such as that in Northern Ireland, it is, in our view, vital for overall morale that career staff can realistically aspire to the highest posts (Paragraph 13).
(d)We welcome the admittedly modest progress that has been made in improving both the religious and gender balances of the Prison Service. We would nonetheless encourage the Service to continue to give a high priority to seeking to reduce the current imbalances significantly further (Paragraph 14).
(e)We welcome the greater attention which is clearly being given to both the quantity of training and its relevance to the needs of the staff. The extensive induction programme for staff transferring from HMP Maze to other establishments was a valuable innovation, given the uniqueness of the prison regime in which they had previously been working there. A modern Prison Service requires its staff to be trained in an increasingly wide range of skills, and a broadly based training programme is therefore essential. In developing the training programme, we have no doubt that the Prison Service will give due weight to ensuring that officers receive appropriate Control and Restraint training (Paragraph 16).
(f)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 may have a useful part to play in controlling costs (Paragraph 18).
(g)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, 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, 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 (Paragraph 22).
(h)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 (Paragraph 26).
(i)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 (Paragraph 30).
(j)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 (Paragraph 33).
(k)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 (Paragraph 36).
(l)While we welcome the belated implementation of our recommendation that Northern Ireland Boards of Visitors should no longer exercise jurisdiction in matters of prison discipline, we regret that this took some 18 months from a Government undertaking to implement it "as soon as possible". In future cases where a commitment of this nature has been given, we recommend that, if difficulties are subsequently identified, Ministers take the initiative over informing us, and do not leave us to discover the change by chance (Paragraph 38).
(m)We hope that the Government will make an early announcement on its preferred option for the structure of prison inspection arrangements for Northern Ireland (Paragraph 40).
(n)We welcome both the review of prisons legislation applicable in Northern Ireland and the acceptance of the proposal to create a Prison Ombudsman, thus bringing Northern Ireland into line with other United Kingdom jurisdictions. We recommend that the Government make every effort to include the relevant legislation in its programme for the 2001-02 Session (Paragraph 42).
(o)The Northern Ireland Prison Service, no longer dominated by the problems of paramilitary prisoners, has proved itself to be adaptable and open to change. We note the warm tribute paid by Mr Spratt to the leadership given by the Director-General. We congratulate management and staff on their achievements to date and look forward to continuing progress in the future (Paragraph 43).

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