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NI: Review of the Northern Ireland Prison Service - interim report published

28th February 2011


Northern Ireland Justice Minister, David Ford, today published the interim report by the Prison Review Team led by Dame Anne Owers, describing how the report once again makes "the compelling case that the prison service has to change and cannot continue in its current form.”

The report states that the reference point for the prison system is whether it is contributing to the creation of a safer society. It also states clearly:

"Prison is never a neutral experience: it can reinforce a criminal identity or lifestyle, or alternatively help to change the narrative of a life. That is a reason for using prison sparingly, and for using it positively."

Key recommended measures include:

  • reductions in the fine defaulter and remand prison population
  • a ‘safer society strategy’ to plan for investment outside as well as inside prison; an inter‐departmental initiative, led by the Department of Justice, should link in and reinforce cross‐departmental policies for crime prevention, mental health, rehabilitation, resettlement and desistance
  • governance and accountability need to be strengthened
  • the need for a system that accommodates different populations and all levels of security: including open, semi‐open and step‐down facilities.
  • the need for a separate custodial facility for women receives particular mention.

Other recommendations dealing with include:

  • A profile of the whole population which describes risks, needs and resources for change, so that rehabilitation strategies can be evidence‐based.
  • Individual sentence and custody plans for each prisoner that actively support change rather than simply assessing risk or need.
  • Effective partnerships with outside agencies and groups for crime prevention, rehabilitation and reintegration.
  • A revision of education and skills provision, offending behaviour programmes and information systems so that they all support the core safer custody strategy.

The Belfast Telegraph summarises the report as finding the NI prison service as "too costly; the number of prison staff outstrips the number of prisoners; the prison service is top heavy with management; there is a culture of security rather than reform within the system even though many of those in jail are there for crimes such as non-payment of fines; and even staff are demoralised and dysfunctional."

Read more:

Prison Review Team:

Established in July 2010, the members of the review team are: 

  • Dame Anne Owers (Chair) - previously Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales
  • Paul Leighton - previously Deputy Chief Constable, PSNI
  • Clodach McGrory - Barrister, former Human Rights Commissioner, and a Parole Commissioner
  • Fergus McNeill - Professor of Criminology and Social Work at Glasgow University
  • Phil Wheatley - previously Director General of the National Offender Management Service for England and Wales