Belfast Telegraph

Minister rules out prisons overhaul

Northern Ireland's Justice Minister has ruled out a sweeping Patten-style overhaul of prisons in the province because of lack of money.

Some radical change is possible and a review is already examining options for the future, David Ford said.

This week's report on the Maze jail murder of loyalist leader Billy Wright said the prison regime, which bore the brunt of the criticisms, should undergo the kind of overhaul that saw the Patten Commission transform the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) into the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

But Mr Ford said: "Radical change is possible but radical change of the kind which Patten introduced to the police service, which was extremely expensive, is almost certainly not possible."

Mr Ford was attending the Police Federation's annual conference in Comber, Co Down.

Lord Patten and his team recommended far-reaching changes to the RUC in 1999 which laid the basis for a rebalancing of the force to include more Catholics and greater scrutiny measures, such as a Policing Board of political and independent members.

A Prisons Ombudsman has already been established and measures brought in to improve management.

The report from the Billy Wright Inquiry made a string of critical findings on the Prison Service after investigating the December 1997 killing of the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) leader. The service was criticised for a series of "wrongful omissions" which made it possible for the Wright murder to take place.

Mr Ford added: "Simply bandying around the word Patten does not make it clear how we do that financially.

"We were in a very different climate than we were a decade ago when (Lord) Patten reported."


From Belfast Telegraph