Belfast Telegraph

Monday 24 November 2014

Jails aren’t a shambles, insists David Ford

Justice Minister David Ford has denied that the Prison Service is in a shambolic state after two prisoners were mistakenly released.

Connelly James Cummins (25) was accidentally let go after appearing in court last Friday — 48 hours after alleged rapist Devidas Paliutis (27) was erroneously set free from Maghaberry Prison.

The latest embarrassing incident to hit the Prison Service has sparked demands for a full audit to determine the number of times inmates have been wrongly released.

Cummins was accidentally allowed to walk free on Friday from Downpatrick courthouse where he had been produced to appear in relation to the alleged breach of a custody probation order.

The charge against him was dismissed and a custody prison officer let him go, not realising that he was still facing a number of other charges including aggravated vehicle taking.

Mr Ford said the errors should be viewed in the context of thousands of cases being dealt with without any issues. And he made it clear he was not in the business of “scapegoating” staff over the errors.

The minister was speaking after meeting members of the Prison Officers Association.

It came after the chairman of the Assembly Justice Committee, Lord Morrow, said the Northern Ireland Prison Service was not “fit for purpose”.

Lord Morrow was responding after it emerged on Monday that the second prisoner had been released in error by the Prison Service last week.

Meanwhile Finlay Spratt, from the Prison Officers’ Association, which represents about 1,800 rank-and-file officers, said the service was in a “complete and total mess” because of increased bureaucracy.

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