Justice Minister David Ford, MLA, today told the Assembly that the reform programme to bring about fundamental change in the Prison Service is on track.
He was speaking ahead of the second anniversary of the publication of the Prison Review Team Report, led by Dame Anne Owers, which made 40 high level recommendations as a roadmap for delivering meaningful and sustainable change.
The Minister said that the delivery of these recommendations was the benchmark on which the Prison Service would be judged and he said that progress was taking place but that the programme of reform was challenging and would take time.
He said: “At the time of publication I said that implementing the recommendations would be a long-term process and that we would have to put in place solid foundations if reform was to be embedded across the Service. The reform programme is now at the halfway stage and steady progress is being made. By Christmas almost half of all the recommendations will have been completed.
“But the prison reform programme is about much more than implementing recommendations; it’s about bringing about real and meaningful change on the ground. In June I announced a number of initiatives which will offer better support to prisoners while in prison and enhance their prospects of employment on release.
“Today I am able to announce that the reviews into both the prisoner incentive scheme and the re-categorisation of women and young offenders have been completed and we are now in the process of putting these changes into practice.
“A new cutting edge addiction programme – the first of its kind in the UK - will be piloted in Maghaberry early in 2014 and this will continue alongside other drug initiatives at the prison which were announced last week.”
The Minister continued by saying that the facilities for female prisoners is an important issue with the most recent HMIP/CJINI inspection of Ash House raising a number of concerns. He said that he remains committed to the provision of a new prison for female offenders but that this would be the final stage in a four stage programme designed to deliver positive change to female prisoners.
He said: “The first stage is the development of Ash House that will deliver an enriched regime, freer movement and greater access to services. This will be coupled with the development of our Prisons ‘Inspire’ concept within Alderwood House. The third phase will see the provision of residential units. These will be subject to the normal planning processes. The final stage will be the development of the new women’s prison and I anticipate we will have high-level plans for this by the end of the year.”
The Minister also revealed that 457 officers had now left the Prison Service under the voluntary early retirement scheme, with others expected to leave in the near future. He also provided further details on the proposed ‘secure college’ for Hydebank Wood and announced that the college prospectus will be available at the end of November.
The Minister concluded by recognising that great challenges remain to transform the Prison Service in the manner envisaged by the Prison Review Team but he was confident that the current direction of travel will bring about the expected change.
He said: “The Prison Service has not yet transformed into the organisation envisaged by Dame Anne Owers and her team but it is an organisation in transition and many people are working to make change a reality. Behind the reform is a desire to make our communities safer by working with prisoners to reduce their re-offending risk and that is the driver that will ensure that we ultimately succeed.”
Note to editors;
1. Alderwood House is currently a day care facility used by the Probation Board which is located on the Hydebank Wood site but outside the perimeter of the prison. The Prison Service will use the building as a step down and working out facility to support the rehabilitation of female prisoners.