New faces will be crucial for modern Prison Service
Recruiting 200 custody officers is the biggest shake-up in the penal system for a generation, says Colin McConnell
This is a time of fundamental change within the Northern Ireland Prison Service. A recruitment campaign for custody officers has been launched and it is hoped to attract up to 200 new recruits into the service later in the year.
It's the first time that the Prison Service has launched a recruitment campaign for officers and related grades in a number of years and comes at a time when a considerable number of officers intend to leave the service under the exit scheme.
Eligible officers had until last Friday to put their names forward to leave under the terms of the scheme and management are assessing the numbers and working through the finer details for each of the establishments.
This comes against a background of the need for positive and progressive change; to do things differently and to do them better.
The case for reform has been made in a series of reports and the challenge to deliver those reforms has been accepted by both Prison Service management and by Justice Minister David Ford.
Refreshing the workforce is a central part of the reform agenda and provides the opportunity to introduce new recruits into the Prison Service so that, over the period of this change programme, we will build a workforce which is modern, professional and more reflective of the community it serves.
The Prison Service is there to improve public safety by reducing the risk of re-offending through the management and rehabilitation of offenders in custody.
The role of the new custody officer in meeting this objective will be to maintain a safe, decent and secure environment within our prisons and ensuring that daily routines operate smoothly and effectively.
Successful recruits to the new custody officer role will have the opportunity for a long career in the Prison Service. For the first time, a new recruit joining the service can have a career ambition of reaching the very top. It will be both challenging and difficult and will not suit everyone.
To ensure the new roles are the foundation for a professional career, we have put in place an in-depth career structure with a new training programme which will lead to professional qualification and accreditation. During their 51-week probationary period, recruits will be working towards achievement of a certificate of competence.
The starting salary for the new custody officer posts will be £18,000, rising to £23,000 after successful completion of training.
For the first time, we require a minimum education standard for applicants to ensure all new custody officers come into the role with qualifications. This has been set at GCSE, or equivalent level, of Grade C or above in both English and Maths. Candidates have until Friday, March 2 to apply.
Building a skilled, trained and professional workforce, committed to the vision of the new Prison Service, is critical if we are to deliver the necessary reforms.
This recruitment campaign, sitting alongside a development package for those prison officers remaining in the service, is a key milestone in building a modern prison service.
The measure of our success has to be how we improve outcomes for prisoners and achieve a reduction in the risk of re-offending.
It is a massive challenge - not just for the Prison Service, but also the wider justice system.
We will work with offenders in our care to address their offending behaviour and provide them with the skills that can help them avoid re-offending on release back into the community. Having the right team in place will help us to meet that challenging objective.