Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 December 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Maghaberry must embrace change

Maghaberry Prison is Northern Ireland's most modern jail, but it is still run using outmoded practices.

The prison population is diverse, ranging from those incarcerated for non-payment of fines to those serving terms for terrorist-related offences. All prisoners are subjected to a regime devised to deal with paramilitaries.

After two highly criticial reports into how the prison was run, Steve Rodford was appointed governor last July. His remit was to transform the prison regime and introduce a wide range of reforms recommended by Criminal Justice and Prisons inspectors. He came to the job from a post in England with a high reputation, but suddenly he is gone, citing personal and domestic reasons for his resignation.

It is known that details about his home and car were found in a dissident republican's prison cell and there would be every sympathy with him or his family if they found that the threat to their safety was too high a price to pay for any job.

However, there is a feeling that the security lapse was not the only reason for his resignation. Transforming a prison system staffed by people rooted to past practices is a difficult job. There is also a huge amount of red tape to be overcome. Security Minister Paul Goggins may have more details available on the resignation than he has made public so far.

What is clear is that finding a successor to Mr Rodford will not be easy. While there are measures that can be taken to reduce the security threat, resistance to change within the Prison Service may be a far more difficult obstacle to overcome. It is unlikely that there will be a lengthy queue waiting to take over the position vacated by Mr Rodford.

The real losers will be the prisoners. Many deficiencies in the operation of the prison have been identified, but who will implement the recommended changes?

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