Belfast Telegraph

Reforming Northern Ireland Prison Service chief quits after one year

By Amanda Poole

The director general of the Northern Ireland Prison Service is quitting his post after little more than a year, it has emerged.

In a surprise move, it is understood Colin McConnell will now take over as head of Scotland’s jails.

The father-of-five from Edinburgh, who began his career as a prison officer, was on a salary of around £100,000.

His unexpected departure is expected to be officially announced later today.

Despite his short stay, Mr McConnell oversaw part of a turbulent period in the history of the prison service here.

It followed a major review in 2010 by Dame Anne Owers which contained strong criticisms of the penal system.

At the time of his appointment in January 2011, Mr McConnell said he was “under no illusions at the scale of the challenge ahead”.

For the last 14 months, Mr Mc Connell has overseen radical reforms aiming to modernise the service.

Last month, a recruitment campaign for 200 new prison officers, encouraging Catholics and women to apply, was launched. It coincided with a major redundancy exit scheme for experienced staff getting under way.

There are more than 1,700 prison officers in Northern Ireland and 540 are expected to retire early to make way for cheaper recruits.

Writing in the Belfast Telegraph only last month, Mr McConnell said the recruitment campaign for custody officers and the exit scheme came against a “background of the need for positive and progressive change”.

Last night, a Department of Justice spokesman was unavailable for comment about the departure of Mr |McConnell.

Colin McConnell has worked for prison services in all UK regions.

He started his career as a prison officer before moving through the operational management ranks.

Mr McConnell served as director of operations with the Northern Ireland Prison Service before taking on the role of director general in January of 2011.Originally from Edinburgh, he is married with five children and was on an annual salary of £100,000.

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