Damning report into prison service
Unacceptable management failures in Northern Ireland's prisons mean they deliver an ineffective service despite having more staff than inmates, a damning report has found.
An inspection of corporate governance and working practices in the region's three facilities exposed a shocking litany of debilitating "deepseated" problems that is preventing the development of a modern, efficient system.
The devastating assessment by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJINI) is the latest blow to the beleaguered Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS), which has been reeling from a series of critical reports on prisoner care. The CJINI found that of 1,300 recommendations made in those previous reports, 600 remained outstanding.
Past investigations into a number of deaths in custody exposed failings in the observation of vulnerable inmates, while in the last two months three prisoners have been wrongly released, including an accused rapist.
The high security Maghaberry prison in Co Antrim has been ranked as one of the worst performing in the UK.
All this is despite the fact there are almost 1,900 uniformed officers and 400 support staff for Northern Ireland's 1,500 prison population. This 1.14 staff-to-prisoner ratio is far in excess of the 0.47 ratio in England and Wales. Officers in the region are also paid a third more than their counterparts across the Irish sea.
Partly as a consequence, money spent keeping prisoners is also comparatively much higher, with the cost per prisoner place in the region approaching £78,000 a year in contrast to the £45,000 in England and Wales.
With Northern Ireland's jails only four fifths full, the actual cost per individual prisoner is almost £95,000. The NIPS's annual operating budget is around £137 million, of which £90 million is spent on staff costs.
Chief inspector with the CJINI Dr Michael Maguire, who produced the report, said major changes were needed within the service. He noted that prisons had been left out of the wide-reaching peace process reforms of the criminal justice system, which among other things led to the creation of a new police service.
As a result, the system was effectively still operating as it had done during the Troubles, when the focus was more on security than on rehabilitation. "It has been unable to deliver better outcomes for prisoners in terms of time out of cell, access to work, education and other purposeful activity, or to address the need for more constructive engagement between prison officers and prisoners, which can be critical in helping to reduce re-offending and make communities safer," he said.