Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Second Special Report


Letter from the Rt Hon Adam Ingram JP, MP, Minister of State,

Northern Ireland Office, to the Chairman of the Committee

I am writing about the Government's response to the Report of the Follow-Up Inquiry on the Northern Ireland Prison Service.

Let me say at the outset how much I appreciate the extensive study of the Northern Ireland Prison Service that the Committee has undertaken since 1998. I am also grateful for the positive report you produced on 28 February, which concluded that the Prison Service has proved itself to be adaptable and open to change, and congratulated management and staff on their achievements to date.

The Committee's report contained 15 principal conclusions and recommendations and the attached chart gives the Government's detailed response to each of these.[2] I trust you and members of the Committee will find this helpful.

  10 April 2001



1.  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).

The Government and the Northern Ireland Prison Service appreciate the compliment   paid by the Committee.

 2.  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).

The Government endorses the tribute paid to management and staff of the Service, and the Trade Unions, in their constructive handling of the Staff Reduction Programme.

 3.  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 (Paragraph 11).

A Senior Management Development Programme was launched in October 2000. The programme is aimed at Governor Grade IV and General Service Deputy Principal grades and above. The purpose of the programme is to assist senior managers to develop skills and competencies to meet the challenges of both their current and more senior jobs.

A secondment scheme for Governor Grade II and III staff commences in May. The purpose of the scheme is to broaden experience of senior governors through secondment to other organisations in the Public and Private sectors. The first secondment will take place in May when a Governor II will take up a 3-month placement with HM Prison Service.

 4.  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).

Following the staff reduction programme it is projected that staff turnover will be minimal. This makes recruitment highly unlikely within the next few years.

The Corporate and Business Plan 2001-2004 incorporates a development objective for 2001-2002, i.e. to evaluate action taken to date to encourage under-represented groups to join the Prison Service and revise as necessary.

5.  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).

A Corporate Training Plan is drawn up each year based on a Service-wide training needs analysis. A development objective for 2001-2002 in relation to control and restraint training has been included in the Corporate and Business Plan, i.e. to ensure that sufficient control and restraint trained staff are available to meet contingency arrangements.

6.  We welcome the efforts being made to reduce the differential in the cost per prisoner place between Northern Ireland and England and Wales 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).

The Service is to reduce the difference in cost per prisoner place by 5.7% by March 2002. This will be achieved mainly through alignment of data with England and Wales.

During 2001-2002 the Service will set efficiency targets and develop efficiency plans for SR2000 period in line with Better Quality Services. The Service intends to benchmark costs and findings from a planned staff survey against the Scottish and HM Prison Services.

7.  It is clearly important that the Management Board, and particularly its independent members, have an adequate degree of exposure to operational experience.... 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).

The Director General and Director of Operations in particular are in frequent contact with Governing Governors, primarily through regular visits to establishments. Governors are also fully involved in senior management workshops and seminars, for example, the workshop held on 2 March to discuss and agree the Corporate and Business Plan for 2001-2004.

The Director of Operations chairs a meeting with Governing Governors which is held each month and prior to the Management Board meeting. Issues raised by Governors can be referred to the Management Board if necessary. Similarly items may be referred by the Management Board to the Governing Governors group. Management Board members and Governing Governors are content with the current meeting structure arrangements.

8.  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 (Paragraph 26).

The extension of the video link to Lisburn Magistrates' Court was effected on 27 March and Ballymena Magistrates' Court on 5 April. An analysis of costs and benefits has been undertaken to support a bid to Treasury for additional funding to further extend the facility to Magilligan Prison and another 13 courts. This bid was successful, with Treasury awarding £0.5 million in each of the next 3 years. Dr Bryett's recommendations will be taken into account in the implementation plans.

9.  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).

A review of the juvenile justice estate concluded that a single juvenile custodial centre should provide appropriate facilities, including secure accommodation, for all juveniles, male and female, in Northern Ireland. The site chosen is Rathgael in Bangor, Co. Down and, once available (in 2/3 years time), 'unruly' juveniles will be housed there rather than in Mourne House.

10.  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).

Drugs strategies in place in each establishment will be reviewed and revised if necessary this year in order to minimise the level of drugs abuse.

11.  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).

The closure of the Maze as an operational establishment brought segregation in Northern Ireland prisons to an end. The Prison Service is committed to integration rather than segregation as it provides for the safest prison regimes for both prisoners and staff. Integration gives the Service the ability to treat all prisoners as individuals and for each to benefit equally from the facilities available.

12.  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).

The Committee's criticism is acknowledged and their recommendation is noted.

13.  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).

The Government agreed, following the Criminal Justice Review, to the establishment of a Criminal Justice Inspectorate in Northern Ireland. The review report envisaged that the Criminal Justice Inspectorate would continue to avail of existing inspection arrangements, e.g. for prisons. In the meantime the Chief Inspector of Prisons has been asked to continue to provide inspection services until at least July 2002. Thereafter, whilst the Inspectorate of Prisons is likely to continue to be involved, it may be under Criminal Justice stewardship.

The Inspectorate undertook an unannounced inspection at Magilligan on 27 to 29 March 2001 and is due to carry out a full inspection at the Young Offenders Centre in May.

14.  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 2001-2002 Session (Paragraph 42).

The Prison Service is committed, in its Business Plan for 2001-2002, to conduct a review of prisons' legislation that will include an examination of the legislative position regarding a Prison Ombudsman.

The Government will endeavour to introduce the legislation as soon as possible but realistically this may not happen before summer 2002.

15.  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).

The Government welcomes these positive comments and endorses the tribute to the management and staff on their achievements to date.

The Corporate and Business Plan 2001-2004 gives direction and focus for the Prison Service in the coming years and represents a significant change in direction from the previous domination of the agenda by the need to contain large numbers of paramilitary prisoners. The Plan sets out challenging targets and objectives and provides the opportunity to develop the Service further.

2  The format has been changed to facilitate reproduction of the material supplied. Back

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