Inspectorate reports on prisoner pre-release testing arrangements

CJI has published the findings of a review of the pre-release testing arrangements operated by the Northern Ireland Prison Service. 
The review, which was carried out at the request of the Department of Justice after separate incidents in late 2018 raised public concern about the release of prisoners from custody before their sentence had finished.

“This review looked the criteria applied and parameters in place within the NIPS under which prisoners could participate in all forms of accompanied and unaccompanied temporary release from prison under the NIPS pre-release testing process,” said CJI Chief Inspector Brendan McGuigan.

In general, Inspectors found the NIPS arrangements to be working well, but Inspectors did identify concerns around how external activity schemes are operating as there was no explicit or consistent rationale for them, and their operation was linked to discretion applied by prison governors.

The review also found evidence that a small number of prisoners, who were ineligible for temporary release from prison custody due to the length of their sentence, had in the past, participated in these external activity schemes.”

“We believe more should be done to regularise the operation of these schemes and have included among the two strategic and four operational recommendations we have made,  one that the NIPS should publish a rationale and the operating procedures for external activity schemes in a policy document.  This policy should outline the criteria for prisoners to participate in external activity schemes and extent to which governors’ discretion may apply.

Mr McGuigan said he endorsed the practice of temporarily releasing prisoners from custody either in the company of Prison Service staff or on their own,  as it enabled the NIPS and their partners to collect information to help assess the individual levels of risk they may pose for the public and a prisoner’s suitability for release.

However he stressed it was imperative that members of the public – and victims of crime in particular - had confidence in the way the NIPS makes its decisions and the rigour that was applied when determining if, when, and in what circumstances, a prisoner was considered for release from custody – even for the shortest period of time.