Effective training central to enhancing public protection

An inspection of Prison Service Staff Training and Development has shown that training is central to shifting the culture of the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) to work more effectively to reduce re-offending and enhance public protection.

The report published today (Thursday 11 June 09) by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI), assessed the quality, uptake and outcomes of training and development for operational staff and managers within the Prison Service.
“The inspection found that historically, the bulk of training provided for prison officers within the NIPS was security-focused and driven by the need to update basic skills such as control and restraint of prisoners,” said Dr Michael Maguire, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
“Over recent years the role of the prison officer within a modern prison service has and continues to undergo significant change. 
“Staff are being asked to move away from the security-focused role to one where they engage proactively with prisoners to challenge inappropriate behaviour, and assist in their rehabilitation,” he said.
“As prison officers interact with prisoners on a day-to-day basis they have the potential to inspire change. They have more influence over the behaviour of prisoners than anyone else,” added the Chief Inspector.
This shift from turn-key to role model Dr Maguire indicated, required considerable commitment and effort from staff, and must be supported by increased training and development focused on promoting and supporting this new way of working.
Inspectors found that following the appointment of the current Director General in 2004, and a new Head of Training and Development at the Prison Service College in 2006, training within the Prison Service had taken some steps forward.
However, much remained to be done as security-focused mandatory and refresher training accounted for the majority of training undertaken during 2007-08, rather than developmental staff training designed to equip prison officers with the skills to undertake a more rehabilitative role with prisoners.
Inspectors also discovered that operational requirements such as staffing levels required in the various ‘houses’ and on prison landings, could impact on the release of staff to attend training events or result in training events being cancelled. The level of sickness absence among staff was also found to be a contributory factor.
The report recommends better arrangements be put in place to assist with the release of staff for training. Dr Maguire said this should be done without impacting on the of the core functions of the Prison Service, such as the release of prisoners from their cells.
In conclusion, Northern Ireland’s Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice said: “We welcome the willingness the Prison Service has shown towards taking the necessary steps to refocus its energy on staff training and development through the Action Plan compiled  in response to the report findings.
“CJI sees this as a vital step towards the NIPS achieving its overarching purpose of supporting public protection and rehabilitating offenders, and the Inspectorate looks forward to reviewing the progress made when this topic is revisited in 2011,” said Dr Maguire.