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Review life prisoners' psychology services to cut public risk, urges inspector

Published 09/02/2016

An inspection spotlighted problems with psychology service delivery methods in the Prison Service in Northern Ireland
An inspection spotlighted problems with psychology service delivery methods in the Prison Service in Northern Ireland

Psychological services for life sentence prisoners should be fundamentally reviewed, Northern Ireland's criminal justice watchdog said.

Chief inspector Brendan McGuigan said he was disappointed the rate of improvement had been slow since he last reported on the issue in 2012. The aim is to reduce the risk to the public when the inmate is eventually released.

Mr McGuigan said he was sorry a previous recommendation to establish a more integrated psychology service had not been achieved.

"I would urge the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) and Probation Board Northern Ireland (PBNI) to fundamentally review psychological provision and collaborate to ensure services were more closely aligned."

The 2012 inspection highlighted problems with methods of delivering psychology services within the Prison Service. It said t here were not enough psychologists to undertake all the forensic assessments.

The report recommended that the probation and the prison services should collaborate to establish a more integrated psychology service that will better meet the needs of each organisation.

This was considered achievable in a small jurisdiction like Northern Ireland with single prison, probation and parole organisations.

On Tuesday the inspectorate said the recommendation had not been achieved.

"Inspectors understand that work is continuing in this area, and this, together with the change of structure in the NIPS and the wider strategic work to streamline reducing offending initiatives and interventions, provides a real opportunity for the NIPS and the PBNI to more closely align the delivery of psychology services."

According to the report, the Probation Board said proposals for joint training were agreed. Joint training in building better relationships has taken place.

It said: " The PBNI have proposed a new model for delivery of psychology services for life sentenced prisoners released to the community, which has been supported by NIPS psychology, and proposals for inter-agency placements agreed in principle across community and custody psychology services."

The inspectorate stressed the importance of a collaborative approach between prisons and probation services.

Mr McGuigan said: "Imprisonment for life is the ultimate sanction that the State can impose on offenders who commit the most serious criminal offences and represent a significant threat to the public.

"Reducing that risk and dealing with the underlying offending behaviour along with preparing offenders for their eventual release, must be the primary objective of our prison and probation services."

He welcomed the development and opening of a pre-release facility in Belfast to deliver a purposeful regime for inmates approaching the end of their sentences.

Of the 11 operational recommendations made in the original CJI report, inspectors found four were achieved and six were partially achieved. One operational recommendation was not achieved.

Mr McGuigan said: "Reduced funding for probation services means prison staff will need to take on a greater role in managing life and indeterminate sentenced prisoners.

"To do this they will need to be fully trained to deliver this enhanced role ."

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