Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Letter from the Prison Officer's Association (Northern Ireland) to Dr E M Power, Quinquennial Review Team, Northern Ireland Office


  I write in response to your letters, dated 22 December 1999 and 3 March 2000.

  First of all, I would like to apologise for the delay in replying as I have had to wait on responses from Branches in Establishments. I will deal with the questions you asked in the order you requested.

    (3i) When the Prison Service became an agency on 1 April 1995, we were led to believe that it would bring about a transformation of the Prison Service and we would all feel that we were part of it. I have to say, in my opinion it has been a complete disaster up until recently and it is only now that management is beginning to get to grips with what it should have been doing for the past five years.

    (3ii) I believe that the Prison Service should continue as an Agency but the practice of allowing Civil Servants to come and go must cease and they should remain part of the Agency. After all, Prison staff are the constant core of the Agency whilst the administration staff come and go creating difficulties for the core staff who are left. We find ourselves in the position that administrative staff have no loyalty to the Agency or the core business as it is only another career step for them.

    (3iii) The Prison Service should concentrate over the next five years on building a Prison Service which all staff feel that they belong to by giving more training as this has been lacking over the years. They now have an opportunity, as a result of the Staff Reduction Programme, to build a Service which we can all be proud of. External training should be linked to the job we do, not as it is at the moment. Our education budget is allocated on a first come basis and some of the courses granted funding bear no relationship to the job we do.

    (3iv) Our Association has always advocated that the role of the Prison Officer should be expanded into the probation field and, in fact a pilot scheme was carried out at the YOC some years ago and it proved a success but it was allowed to lapse.

    (3v) The Prison Service can only serve the community better if we can manage to return offenders to the community more equipped to deal with the changing work environment. The training which is being offered to inmates today within our penal system is outdated and it does not reflect present day work requirements.

    (3vi) There is much which the Prison Service can do to offer better value for money to the taxpayer. This Association has been at the forefront over recent years in reducing the cost to the taxpayer of keeping a prisoner in custody, only to watch the increase in Civil Servant posts and consultants being paid large amounts of money to advise management as to how they should manage, when the taxpayer is paying them to manage. Management is attempting to put out Prison Officer jobs to contractors and continue to employ Prison Officers as well as the contractors. Where is the value for money in this type of management? It is our opinion that we have the necessary expertise within the Prison Service and we do no require consultants to advise us at colossal expense to the taxpayer.

  We have a recent example where a prior options study of escorting prisoners to court indicated that this service should go out to tender. The Association argued that this service could be done as cheaply with prison staff if it was managed properly. A study was carried out by an in-house team and we now have this service up and running and, up until now, it has been a great success. We also said that the Prison Service should take over all court productions from the RUC and also that we should man all courts because we believe prison staff can do it cheaper than the RUC. I believe that study is now being done.

  Another example is the video linking from establishments to courts which is now up and running. All the research work was carried out by prison staff, not consultants.

  There are many more examples but I feel that if you could find time a meeting would be very useful at this late stage.

  I look forward to hearing from you.

15 March 2000

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