Rehabilitation 'not do-goodery'
Calls for prisons to rehabilitate offenders and not simply punish them are more than "do-goodery", the Justice Department's top civil servant has said.
Nick Perry, permanent secretary at the department, said the devolution of law and order powers to Stormont had allowed for a major overhaul of the justice system, including prisons.
He told a conference on the justice system in Northern Ireland that the police, the courts and the prison system had to respond to the needs of society and listen to the concerns of the public.
Justice minister David Ford has launched a major reworking of the prison system after scathing reports found the structures shaped by decades of violence, needed to be radically modernised for the 21st century. Mr Perry said many members of the public wanted prisons to be a place of punishment.
He added: "And the harder and more unpleasant the better. The onus is on those of us who believe we need to put rehabilitation at the centre of our approach to offender management, to persuade those who don't, that it isn't just about do-goodery, that there's a real hard-headed rationale to it.
"If offenders are sent to inappropriate and damaging prison systems anywhere, never mind Northern Ireland, they will come out worse than they went in, and society will be at greater risk as a result."
He and other speakers at the Agenda NI event in the Baby Grand venue at Belfast's Opera House said the system had to be moulded to meet the needs of victims and wider society.
The Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice, Michael Maguire, repeated his concerns over major delays in the processing of court cases, while Deputy Ombudsman for Northern Ireland Marie Anderson also called for the more efficient delivery of justice.
Mr Perry said his department was introducing a suite of radical reform, directed by the minister Mr Ford and shaped with the help of the Stormont Executive and the Assembly's Justice Committee. He said engagement with the public on the often controversial issues surrounding the criminal justice system was vital.
"Because of our history, criminal justice issues in particular, have often been highly divisive, and we still feel the effects of that today. Yet the reality is that justice has the potential to unite everyone in our community. The more widespread that confidence is in the work and values of the justice system, the more justice will become shared ground for us all."