Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Prisons system overhaul demanded

A report has called for an overhaul of the prisons system in Northern Ireland

A damning report has called for an overhaul of the Northern Ireland prison system after finding it is wasting public money and failing to create a safer society.

The prison service that was shaped to deal with the decades of the Troubles has repeatedly been accused of falling short of the needs of the 21st century.

Now a major review, which made 40 recommendations to tackle problems across all areas of prison life, has demanded politicians support a reform process on the scale of that which transformed policing in Northern Ireland.

The report is likely to spark a multimillion-pound "exit scheme" to retrain and recruit new prison officers, but to also allow 500-600 of the current 1,800-strong staff to leave the service.

But the report also raised concerns over the numbers of people being sent to jail, their treatment in custody, the efforts to cut re-offending, the practice of remand prisoners being held for years before facing trial, healthcare provision, plus the systems in place to return prisoners into the community.

Chair of the review team, Dame Anne Owers, said little had changed since an interim report issued by her team in February, which had described the system as dysfunctional, demoralised and ineffective.

"But in a devolved administration, politicians literally cannot afford to stand over a system which is wasteful of public money and fails to deliver a safer society," she said.

"There will need to be a determined, cross-party approach to driving through the change that is needed.

"This is not a question of incremental change - but of a transformation of culture, approach and working practices, supporting those staff and managers who are seeking and welcome this, and if necessary confronting those who are not prepared to make that journey.

"Though this transformation will take time to complete, there is an urgent need to show that its foundations are securely in place. The next six months will be crucial."

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