Public protection must be the priority in management of life prisoners. Significant improvements made, but further action required
Life sentence prisoners are being well managed in Northern Ireland, both in prison and while under supervision in the community, though there are key areas that require improvement to ensure public protection and confidence in the criminal justice system.
That is the conclusion of a Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland report published today, 6th July, ‘Management of life and indeterminate sentence prisoners in Northern Ireland’.
The inspection examined progress in implementing the recommendations of CJI’s 2009 review of how life prisoners are prepared for release. It found that the management, testing and assessment of life sentence prisoners had improved across a number of areas.
Deputy Chief Inspector Brendan McGuigan said; “Protection of the public must be at the forefront of any decision to release life sentence prisoners. It is vital that they are subject to thorough assessment and testing before they can be considered for release as they have been convicted of the most serious offences.”
“Since our inspection in 2009, we have found that significant progress has been made in the management of indeterminate sentenced prisoners. The Probation Board for Northern Ireland (PBNI) and the Parole Commissioners for Northern Ireland have developed comprehensive rules and standards to guide Probation Officers and Parole Commissioners in the detail of their work. In addition, the Parole Commissioner’s administration and contact with criminal justice agencies have improved, which has led to better case management.”
The inspection also found that life licensees were being carefully supervised in the community by the PBNI and that the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) had improved their response in several respects. These included provision of a dedicated lifer house at Maghaberry Prison and better arrangements for indeterminate sentence prisoners to progress and regress within the prison system.
The report makes three strategic recommendations for improvement, namely for the NIPS and others to urgently establish a new step-down facility for lifers; to reconfigure the respective roles of the PBNI and the NIPS psychology services; and to improve delivery of Offending Behaviour Programmes (OBPs) in the prisons.
“The continuing suspension of the NIPS Prisoner Assessment Unit is a major problem and the NIPS should develop a new pre-release scheme as a matter of urgency. This is a very important element of preparing prisoners for release and we recommend that the scheme should be based at a new step-down facility. When designing the scheme the NIPS should consult closely with the PBNI and the voluntary organisations which have experience in running offender hostels,” said Mr. McGuigan.
He concluded that the report’s recommendations, if properly implemented, should significantly enhance the quality of risk management and prisoner resettlement, while also delivering financial savings.