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Prison forums simply good, modern practice

I WISH to clarify a number of issues relating to Alan Murray's article 'Killers given a say in how prison is run' (December 9).

In the report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons/Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland follow-up inspection of Maghaberry between January 19-23, 2009, the inspectorate made a repeat recommendation from an earlier inspection: "Monthly minuted house meetings should be introduced between prisoner representatives and staff." The Inspectorate noted "prisoners still had no opportunity to meet as a group to discuss their experiences with staff".

As a result of this and similar recommendations in the report, the Northern Ireland Prison Service has been rolling out Prisoner Forums not only at Maghaberry, but all three prison establishments in Northern Ireland.

These forums have been running for several months and are a useful tool in the engagement process between prisoners and staff. Such forums are standard in England and in many other countries. Elsewhere the article refers to "a review of the use of electronic grilles" in Maghaberry. This is in response to a key recommendation of the Pearson Report, which stated: "Physical security needs should be reviewed and a sensible balance struck between security and good order."

For many years the primary focus of the prison regime was of a security nature, but the approach of the modern Prison Service is more of engagement with prisoners and offender management.The Prison Service must change its ways in line with good practice elsewhere, a point reflected in your leading article in the same edition.

BRIAN McAVOY

Head of communications, Northern Ireland Prison Service

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