Spotlight on the role of prisons
Today marks the beginning of Prisons Week - a tradition stretching back to 1975, when a group of prison chaplains were determined to highlight the impact prisons had on the whole community.
Prisons Week is an opportunity to remind ourselves of what our prisons are for.
It has often been said that people are sent to prison as punishment and not for punishment. That is a great challenge - not just to those of us who work and support people in custody, but also for the wider community.
By putting rehabilitation at the centre of our work, the Northern Ireland Prison Service will help to build a safer society.
When someone is released from prison with a job, somewhere safe to live and a positive support network, they are much less likely to re-offend.
That is good for the individual and for the wider community. Prisons Week also gives us the opportunity to remember everyone affected by imprisonment.
Firstly, the victims of crime and all those who work to support victims; from the community and voluntary sectors, from the churches and from within our own service.
Also, the families, particularly the children of prisoners, as they feel the impact of imprisonment, and our staff, who work, often without recognition and sometimes under threat, to help those in our custody to change.
Prisons can be difficult and challenging places.
Our role is to support people in custody to change, to become better citizens and to make a positive contribution to their community when they are released. That is not always a popular view.
However, that is our job and the Northern Ireland Prison Service is committed to that work.
Prisons Week is a time to pause and to reflect on what prisons are for in the 21st century.
They must be a places of hope, rehabilitation and support. That is how we serve everyone in Northern Ireland.
- Sue McAllister is director general of the Northern Ireland Prison Service