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Chaos fears in prisons as 500 staff face job axe

Prison unions bosses have predicted chaos over the proposed loss of up to 500 experienced officers from jails in Northern Ireland.

Yesterday, Prison Service Director General Colin McConnell told prison officers that hundreds would lose their jobs and said that time had run out for some of the demoralised staff.

Prison Officers' Association chairman Finlay Spratt said he feared the introduction of 'rookie' officers to replace experienced staff was a risk being taken by the Prison Service to save money.

"They can get rid of good experienced officers earning up to £40,000 a year and replace them with new recruits earning £24,000 a year. It will save them a lot of money but they're taking a major risk with the security of the prisons."

Mr McConnell promised a radical overhaul of the Prison Service just a day after it emerged that another inmate had been wrongly released last Friday. It is the latest in a series of blunders and shortcomings identified in reports by the Prisoner Ombudsman Dame Anne Owers.

The new Prison Service DG said that he would introduce a smaller prison service and revised staff shift patterns to deliver better value for money and enhanced public protection and would revise and reduce management structures with an emphasis on personal accountability.

Mr McConnell said he would also redefine the role of a prison officer to focus on prisoner engagement in a bid to reduce the risk of prisoner re-offending and establish a new role of "support prison officer" with responsibility for basic care, supervision, searching, security and control.

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The new SEE Programme (Strategic Efficiency and Effectiveness) was launched at Stormont yesterday where Mr McConnell said the Prison Service could no longer afford to stay the way it is. "There is a strong economic driver for this," he said.


Reforms planned for Northern Ireland's prisons include:

  • Revised staff shift patterns;
  • Delivering better value for money and enhanced public protection;
  • Redefining the role of a professional prison officer to focus on prisoner engagement and reducing the risk of re-offending;
  • Establishing the role of support prison officer; e Revising and flattening management structures.

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