Belfast Telegraph

Ford says partnership working is crucial to successful prison reform

Stormont Executive press release - Department of Justice

Justice Minister David Ford today outlined plans for enhanced partnership arrangements as part of the ongoing reform of the Prison Service.

Speaking to an audience of stakeholders at Belfast’s Crumlin Road Gaol, which itself has been transformed since its closure in 1996, the Minister said that change could not be delivered by NIPS in isolation but could only come about through collaborative working arrangements with the voluntary, statutory and community sectors.

In unveiling the, “Working in Partnership to Reform our Prisons” document the Minister said that the Dame Anne Owers led Prison Review Team Report provided the template for prison reform and it recognised that true change could only be brought about with effective support from partner organisations.

He said: “If we are serious about building a fair, just and safer community in Northern Ireland, we must work constructively with those who find themselves in prison. This means working with them to reduce their risk of re-offending, by offering them paths to rehabilitation and to provide them with interventions which change negative behaviour patterns to positive ones.

“This can best be achieved through coordinated services across Government, with real and meaningful input from key stakeholders. It is in the interest of everyone that we not only keep prisoners secure until their release, but ensure that upon release that they can make positive lifestyle choices with realistic prospects of securing employment and making a positive contribution to community life.”

The Minister outlined initiatives for reform across five key areas, which were identified as priority areas following a series of workshops with key stakeholders, which have taken place over the past number of months.

These areas are;

· An overhaul of the ‘prisoner incentive scheme’
· A new way to categorise women prisoners and young offenders
· A new approach to tackling drug misuse in prisons
· Working to enhance employability prospects of prisoners
· A joined up approach to resettlement

Speaking on the proposals the Minister said: “Working in partnership to integrate services across the prison estate is crucial to the reform programme and it is clear that there is an ever increasing role for the voluntary and community sector to work with the Prison Service, both inside and outside of establishments, and they have an important role to play in each of these crucial areas.

“Take the issue of substance misuse, for example. This is a community wide programme, which is magnified within the prison setting. Together we need to develop a way that balances a firm approach against those who continue to misuse substances in our prisons, against those who want to extract themselves from the cycle of addiction.

“Those prisoners who are prepared to work with the Service and with partner agencies should be the ones who benefit most from what is being proposed. In the past there were incentives for prisoners who did not behave badly or did not cause problems, but this needs to change. Rather than reward an absence of bad behaviour we should be rewarding good behaviours and have proper and meaningful incentives for those prisoners who are engaging in purposeful activity and working earnestly to meet the targets of their sentence plan.”

The Minister stated that the Change Manager for Prison Reform would report on progress within the next 100 days.

Notes to editors:

1. The document “Working in Partnership to Reform our Prisons” can be accessed here

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