Prison Service must focus on results and not just the process of resettlement

WHILE the process of the resettlement of offenders has improved, the outcomes for prisoners are less obvious – that’s just one of the findings of a new report published today by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland.

The report, ‘An inspection of prisoner resettlement by the Northern Ireland Prison Service’ is a follow up to a 2007 inspection and contains 22 recommendations.
“The introduction of legislation, namely the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2008, has made a real difference in prisoner resettlement but there remains a greater emphasis on what is put into the process rather than the outcomes achieved,” said Dr Michael Maguire, chief inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland. “Indeed, four years on eight of the 14 recommendations that were still relevant have not been achieved and it remains true that the successful delivery of resettlement continues to be hampered by working practices within the Northern Ireland Prison Service and its dominant security ethos.
“This is why it is important that the Strategic Efficiency and Effectiveness (SEE) Programme being developed by the prison service in the interests of reform, specifically deals with resettlement. We encourage the service to include our recommendations in their reform agenda.”
The report noted that the prison service had made structural and practical progress in several areas:
·         Additional staff, over half of whom were non-prison service employees, had been allocated to help prisoners resettle
·         The regime for women prisoners and life sentence prisoners had improved
·         Greater numbers of prisoners were involved in resettlement planning and prison officers were interacting more supportively
   with them
·         There were better arrangements with voluntary organisations to support prisoners preparing for release
·         Delivery of drugs and alcohol services had become more consistent
·         Greater effort was being invested in meeting the needs of short term and remand prisoners
Dr Maguire added that the prison service could not deliver resettlement alone.
“It is obliged to work with whoever the courts send into its custody, and it is very difficult to ‘resettle’ people whose lives were frequently in chaos before entering prison,” he said. “The concept of encouraging and promoting prisoners’ citizenship rather than reducing it, and providing them with the rights, apart from their liberty, of free citizens, remains a political and societal challenge.
“These are issues for politicians, other government agencies and wider society to address. In this respect there is considerable scope to reduce the Northern Ireland prison population by speeding up the process of justice for remand prisoners, and by reducing the numbers of fine defaulters and male children entering prison.
“These reductions would impact positively on the resettlement prospects of the remaining prisoner population.”
The report noted that while it was encouraging that most prisoners were more aware of resettlement than in 2007, many remained uncertain about how it could help them.