Inspectorate publishes review of management of life sentenced prisoners

A review of the arrangements for preparing life sentenced prisoners for release back into the community has been carried out by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI).

The review examined the risk assessment and risk management processes undertaken by the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS), the Probation Board for Northern Ireland (PBNI), and the Parole Commissioners for Northern Ireland.
“Inspectors found that overall risk assessment and management of life sentence prisoners in Northern Ireland compared favourably with the arrangements in place in other jurisdictions,” said Dr Michael Maguire, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
“Risk assessment commenced at the time when sentence was imposed and continued throughout the prisoner’s time in custody and beyond. There was also an enhanced focus on the incorporation of victim’s needs into the management of prisoners,” added Dr Maguire.
Inspectors also commended the improved co-ordination between the agencies involved in dealing with life sentence prisoners that had occurred in recent years.
Dr Maguire continued: “Good risk assessment and management of life sentence prisoners is essential for public protection, but Inspectors identified a number of issues that need to be addressed in order to maintain confidence in this aspect of the criminal justice system in the future.
“The number of life sentence prisoner cases has grown in recent years placing more pressure on the systems in place to manage them. This pressure is likely to intensify as the numbers of prisoners having parole hearings increases as a result of the Criminal Justice Order 2008,” said the Chief Inspector.
These changes have the potential to place an even greater burden on the Parole Commissioners at a time when the Prison Service has already been finding it difficult to cope with the demands of servicing current levels of parole hearings.
In an effort address the existing strain on the system, and its potential future impact on the management of life sentence prisoners and others, CJI has made 18 recommendations to tackle the weaknesses identified by Inspectors.
“The various bodies involved in this process need to engage proactively with one another to plan ahead for the increased workload,” said Dr Maguire.
“We have recommended steps are taken to enhance the Prison Service’s capacity to manage lifers and support the Parole Commissioners’ requirements. We have also called for the administrative functions of the Parole Commissioners to be strengthened to cope with their expanded remit under the new legislation,” he added.
The Chief Inspector said Inspectors recognised work already underway within the Prison Service to cope with new demands. But he stressed the shortcomings in its provision of psychology services and offending behaviour programmes, highlighted in previous inspections, needed to be dealt with.
Dr Maguire concluded: “The introduction of new parole arrangements will most likely lead to an increased demand from lifers and other prisoners, for places on offending behaviour programmes, if they are to qualify for parole and the Prison Service is aware of this.
“There is a fine balance to be struck between public protection and providing opportunities for prisoners to resettle in the community. It is therefore crucial any weaknesses - such as those identified during this review - are addressed promptly to ensure the safe and successful transition from prison to community is maintained,” he said.
  • This review was carried out by CJI at the request of Minister for Criminal Justice, Paul Goggins MP.