THE NORTHERN IRELAND PRISON SERVICE
II. STAFF MANAGEMENT
9. The Prison Service Review resulted in very substantial
changes in the management structure of the Prison Service. Not
surprisingly, its implementation became inextricably linked with
progress on the Staff Reduction Programme. This resulted in some
changes of approach from those envisaged at the time of our original
There has nonetheless been a reduction of headquarters involvement
in day-to-day operational issues and greater devolution of functions
to line managers in the field, although the Prison Governors'
Association (Northern Ireland) suggested that this should go further.
10. The Staff Reduction Programme has succeeded in
delivering the very substantial reduction in numbers required.
The 40 per cent decrease in staff numbers, amounting to nearly
1200 staff, has been achieved entirely through voluntary means,
at an estimated net overall cost of around £130 million.
We are grateful to the Prisons Minister for keeping us informed,
at regular intervals, of progress. The Staff Reduction Programme
has also been instrumental in achieving a number of other objectives.
As the Director General put it:
"I should say that we
deliberately decided to use the staff reduction programme as a
vehicle to achieve a number of other things. It was a single important
piece of work which had to be done, but we used this as a vehicle
to get more training and development under way, to improve communication
across the Service, to improve lines of accountability. It is
an example of a single theme which enables you to make progress
in quite a lot of areas."
He also told us
that the programme had enabled the Service to increase substantially
the proportion of health care staff who are qualified nurses,
to increase the relative proportion of prison auxiliaries and,
for the first time for some years, to provide some opportunities
for promotion within the Service.
11. Although the Prison Officers' Association (Northern
Ireland) did not consider the severance package offered was sufficiently
it co-operated with the Northern Ireland Office in view of support
for the programme shown by its members. The Association did, however,
express some concerns about prison auxiliaries who were invited
to apply, but in the end were not permitted to take advantage
of the Programme.
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.
12. The releases of staff under the Staff Reduction
Programme provided considerably greater scope for promotions than
had been possible in recent years.
Although these promotion opportunities were welcomed by the Prison
Officers' Association (Northern Ireland), concern was expressed
that, as a result of the Staff Reduction Programme, there would
be very little natural wastage in the Service over the next few
years and, as a result, the scope for promotion in the future
would be diminished.
13. One of our original concerns was that the Prison
Service was apparently incapable of producing internal candidates
of sufficient calibre for its highest posts. We therefore asked
the Prison Governors' Association (Northern Ireland) for its assessment
of the significance of the quite substantial losses from the Governor
grades under the Staff Reduction Programme. We note the Association's
confidence that enough suitable governors remain in the Service.
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.
14. In our original Report, we expressed some concerns
about the imbalance in composition of and recruitment to the Prison
Service. We have therefore sought to evaluate progress in this
area. Mr Halward reported small increases in both the percentages
of women appointed and in the percentage of Catholics appointed.
However, he forecast only "a very modest shift" in the
balance because many of the staff who were due to retire in the
next few years have already left under the Staff Reduction Programme.
On promotions, Mr Halward described the position as "not
quite so encouraging" as the pools of candidates are themselves
"quite seriously unbalanced". However, once again, the
percentages of successful Catholics and of women candidates were
slightly above the corresponding proportion of applicants. 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 these imbalances significantly
15. Our original report highlighted serious problems
of low morale, high absenteeism, and poor attendance at training
sessions. Although we recognise that a significant proportion
of Prison Service staff on sick leave at any time are off work
directly as a result of an incident there, such as assault by
a prisoner or smoke inhalation from a fire started by a prisoner,
we are pleased to note the very considerable progress that has
been reported in each area. Mr Halward put the progress on absenteeism
down to "good procedures consistently applied", but
also set out a number of steps now taken to assist staff returning
The Prison Officers' Association (Northern Ireland) has agreed
to the introduction of a new management monitoring process for
sickness, but disagrees with some of the practical details of
16. On training, there has been a dramatic improvement
in uptake and corporate development and training targets are now
The Director-General attributed this to a range of factors, including
improved relevance of training and a greater willingness on the
part of management to release staff for training.
He reported that about 90% of those attending training were reporting
that the training was meeting their needs. The Prison Officers'
Association (Northern Ireland) agreed that a greater emphasis
was now being placed on training, but was critical of the current
extent of training of officers in control and restraint techniques.
Mr Spratt commented:
"We are finding that
more and more in the courts now if people are not properly trained
in C&R then prison officers are being held responsible. The
management have an obligation to ensure that we are properly trained.
C&R is still lacking."
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.
17 HC 866-i, Ev. p. 1. See also Ev. p. 1. Back
67. See also Q 71. Back
63. For the Prison Service's explanation of the reasons, see
Q 7. Back
p. 1-2. Q 72. Back
2 and Ev. p. 17. Back
20 to 23. Back
80 to 82. Back
p. 2. Back