Belfast Telegraph

New prison chief to reform service

A Scot has taken on the job of reforming Northern Ireland's troubled prison regime.

The appointment of Colin McConnell, 50, to the £100,000-a-year post as director general is the first step of an attempt by the Government to try and overhaul the UK's most expensive jail system.

With a current budget of £131 million, he will be expected to make savings of £39 million over the next four years.

The findings of a major review due to be published within the next few weeks are also likely to identify key areas which will need to be examined, including huge costs and staffing levels at Maghaberry, near Lisburn, Co Antrim, Magilligan, Co.Londonderry and the young offenders centre at Hydebank on the outskirts of Belfast where women prisoners are also held.

It takes an estimated £95,000 a year to keep a prisoner in Northern Ireland, two-and-a-half times more than in England, Scotland and Wales, and more people work in the three jails than the 1,400 inmates.

Mr McConnell, who originally comes from Edinburgh, faces a tough challenge, especially in the aftermath of some highly critical reports by the Northern Ireland Prisons Ombudsman Pauline McCabe and the Criminal Justice Inspectorate which described industrial relations as "destructive".

Steve Rodford, the governor of Maghaberry, a top security jail, left suddenly last year after just five months in the job. He returned to England after his home address and car registration details were found in the cell of a dissident republican. His post has yet to be filled.

An initial report of an independent review of the regime by Dame Anne Owers, ordered by the Northern Ireland Justice Minister David Ford last June, is due to be published soon.

Mr McConnell, a father of five, takes over as director after eight months as director of operations for the prison service in Northern Ireland. He moved there on secondment. He had been area manager, responsible for 16 prisons in the south east of England. He trained initially as a prison officer before moving through the operational management ranks to be governor in charge of Risley Prison, Warrington.

Mr McConnell said: "I am under no illusions as to the scale of the challenge ahead, to transform and modernise a proud prison service, which in the future must be capable of delivering for the people of Northern Ireland. Change is never easy for any organisation, no matter what the size, and I know that there will be difficulties ahead. However, doing nothing is not an option and I am determined to work in partnership with others across the service to deliver on the minister's commitment to reform the prison service."

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