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
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
The Committee's report contained 15 principal conclusions
and recommendations and the attached chart gives the Government's
detailed response to each of these.
I trust you and members of the Committee will find this helpful.
10 April 2001
THE NORTHERN IRELAND AFFAIRS COMMITTEE:
THE NORTHERN IRELAND PRISON SERVICE
RESPONSE FROM THE GOVERNMENT
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
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
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
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
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
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
format has been changed to facilitate reproduction of the material