Prison bosses accused of burying hard-hitting report into the welfare of their staff
Prison Service bosses have been accused of trying to bury a critical report examining the welfare of staff.
The study, by an esteemed psychologist, made recommendations on assisting officers' mental well-being.
It was commissioned by the outgoing Director General of the Prison Service, Sue McAllister, but never made it past the Prison Service Management Board (PSMB).
Efforts to obtain the report were blocked until it was leaked to DUP MLA Lord Morrow.
He accused the Prison Service of making a "determined attempt to keep it from scrutiny".
The report, dated October 2013, states:
- The Prison Service had a high sickness rate for some time, with 23,464 working days lost overall between April 2012 and January 2013 at a cost of £2.8m;
- Stress was the most commonly-cited reason. This includes work pressures, new shift patterns, insufficient staff, burnout and lack of support from management;
- In-depth research was conducted into the offender population needs and the training needs of prison staff;
- Suggestions were proposed for "pragmatic steps" to improve a range of issues such as training, staff support, shift patterns, job satisfaction and well-being.
The report was produced by Dr Jackie Bates-Gaston, who has been chief psychologist and head of psychology in the Prison Service for over 20 years.
She was previously a senior lecturer in psychology at Ulster University.
Lord Morrow said he had been made aware of the report and the recommendations put forward by Dr Bates-Gaston.
He sought a copy and in June asked Justice Minister Claire Sugden to place it in the Assembly Library.
The Minister stated the report was prepared for internal use by the PSMB and was not an official publication, therefore it was not appropriate to provide it.
A copy of the report was later leaked to Lord Morrow. When he attempted to question the Minister about it, Ms Sugden said "the analysis backing up the report was limited and therefore there was not a sufficiently robust evidence base from which to formulate an action plan".
Ms Sugden said she will ask officials to review the report, to establish if there is merit in any of the recommendations.
But Lord Morrow said he was appalled that it had not been acted on.
"Whilst I welcome the Minister's instructions to her officials to review this report and her eagerness to address the issue of Prison Officer well-being, I am utterly appalled that Prison Service authorities effectively binned this valuable document," he added.
"I refute the assertion of limited analysis backing up the report, as all material was in the appendices and archived.
"Further, if the PSMB felt there was any aspect which was lacking, they should have immediately brought that to the attention of the author for further in-depth study.
"Instead, it did not make it outside the boardroom."
A NIPS spokesperson said: "Following a number of Assembly Questions relating to an internal Prison Service report presented to the Management Board in 2013, the Minister asked officials to review its findings.
"While the paper was not accepted by the Board, as it was considered inadequate, progress has been made to support staff in this challenging environment and this will be further developed as part of a modernisation programme."