Corporate governance inspection highlights need for Northern Ireland Prison Service transformation

Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) has today (Tuesday 14 December) published the findings of an in-depth inspection of corporate governance arrangements within the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS).

The report examines the management arrangements, processes, policies and working practices that are in place within the Northern Ireland Prison Service, and the challenges the organisation faces in delivering a modern, efficient and effective prison service.
"Since the Inspectorate was established in 2004, it has carried out a range of inspections across the prison estate and with the notable exception of the 2010 inspection of Magilligan Prison, each report has shown that deep seated problems exist," said Dr Michael Maguire, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
"This is despite the efforts of management and levels of staffing two and a half times greater than comparable prisons in England and Wales,” he said.
"It has been unable to deliver better outcomes for prisoners in terms of time out of cell, access to work, education and other purposeful activity, or to address the need for more constructive engagement between prison officers and prisoners, which can be critical in helping to reduce re-offending and make communities safer," he said.   
The inspection found that crucial matters such as dealing with critical inspection reports, working practices and industrial relations difficulties were not explicitly recognised in a way that enabled meaningful change within individual prisons. 
And it identified a range of localised restrictive working practices which increase costs and have a cumulative impact in undermining the capacity of the Northern Ireland Prison Service to deliver an effective regime.
"The Prison Service has at its disposal 1,883 uniformed grade officers and almost 400 civilian grade staff members.  Yet, there are many occasions when local working practices create insufficient staffing levels to deliver an effective service, which has exposed management to a reliance on the 'goodwill' of staff to make the prison work," added Dr Maguire.
Dr Maguire highlighted that leadership and the need to properly manage performance against outcomes from senior management down was imperative.
"Accountability is related to performance management. Unfortunately, we found little history or culture of accountability within the Northern Ireland Prison Service. As the organisation seeks to transform itself into a modern, efficient prison service, strengthened corporate and individual accountability needs to become a reality," said the Chief Inspector.
Dr Maguire also stressed the need to address the poor state of industrial relations and noted that the challenge is as much for the management side of Northern Ireland Prison Service as it is for the Prison Officer's Association.  Fundamental reform will not be achieved without significant development in this area.
In conclusion, the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice said: "It is only by addressing the issues raised in this report the Northern Ireland Prison Service will be able to progress operational issues and support pro-active management to deliver meaningful change.
"This means dealing with weak management processes and the current industrial relations climate.  It will involve addressing issues of leadership and accountability. 
"It will require the development of a more progressive culture and working practices which will not be easy, but are necessary steps that must be taken to move the service forward," said Dr Maguire.