Belfast Telegraph

Prisons report 'to expose problems'

A major report into the Prison Service is poised to expose deep problems in the system, justice minister David Ford has claimed.

He told an Assembly committee that a series of accidental releases of prisoners, plus deaths in jails, were only symptoms of "fundamental" flaws.

Mr Ford said the report's findings, alongside existing concerns about the prison system, would put pressure on the Assembly to deliver wide-ranging reform of the structure, operation and culture of jails.

His comments come after a prisoner became the third in recent months to be accidentally freed from custody.

But prior to being quizzed by MLAs over the releases, Mr Ford told committee members: "But we could also describe them as symptomatic errors, symptomatic of the deeper problems within the prison service.

"The recent erroneous releases, the prisoner ombudsman's report into a death in custody, last week's breach of the perimeter security at Maghaberry, are all symptoms of a more fundamental issue.

"In the Assembly on Monday I pointed to the fact that our prison systems developed in response to the issues of another day. And while society has changed, and the society's expectations of the prison service has changed, the service itself has not kept pace with those changes."

He added: "I have had a number of discussions in recent weeks with Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice, Dr Michael Maguire, about the findings of his review of governance within the prison service. He is due to publish those findings and when he does, I believe the deeper problems within the service will be clear for all to see, problems that go far beyond the operational issues with which the service and I have been wrestling in recent months.

"While we can and will make every effort to prevent further operational failures, the reality is that with the service in its current form, I fear that failures will continue, and will continue regardless of whether I, or anybody else in the Assembly, is justice minister.

"The challenge for me as minister, and I respectfully suggest, for this committee and the wider Assembly, is to deliver the fundamental reform the prison service needs, and those reforms are structural, operational and cultural."

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