Leadership development and wellbeing support within the criminal justice system in NI

Publication: 28/02/23
Front cover of the leadership development and wellbeing support inspection report
“Developing effective leaders ‘crucial’ to success of criminal justice system” says Chief Inspector.

Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) has today published the findings of its first inspection looking at what criminal justice organisations are doing to develop current and future leaders and support the wellbeing of staff.
The inspection looked in detail at the effectiveness of leadership development and wellbeing strategies in place in the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Prison Service, the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service, the Probation Board for Northern Ireland, the Youth Justice Agency and Forensic Science Northern Ireland.
“The criminal justice system in Northern Ireland reflects a diverse range of organisations each with their own culture, structure and leadership styles,” said Jacqui Durkin, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
“What they all have in common is knowing that their staff are their best asset and developing effective leaders is crucial to delivering future change and organisational success.
“We found all the inspected organisations had strategies in place that included outcomes relating to their people or workforce, but specific plans in relation to succession planning were limited.
“We have recommended that all organisations should identify current and future leadership skills and capabilities in their workforce and incorporate these needs into their people strategies and succession plans,” said the Chief Inspector.
Inspectors also found the evaluation of leadership development programmes available to staff tended to relate to the immediate experience of participants instead of the longer-term performance or outcomes.
“To address this Inspectors have recommended that criminal justice organisations develop effective ways of evaluating the effectiveness of leadership developments programmes to be delivered to staff as part of the design or planning process,” said Ms Durkin.
As part of fieldwork for this inspection Inspectors carried out a survey to gather the views of staff working in each of the inspected organisations about the leadership development and wellbeing support provided to them. They included Police Officers, Prison Officers, Prosecutors, social workers, scientists, accountants, and business support staff.
“Over 700 people from across the criminal justice system responded and a considerable number of people spoke to Inspectors about their own experiences,” said the Chief Inspector.
“This information provided a valuable insight into areas of positive practice where staff felt supported and other areas where staff did not feel their organisation’s culture in terms of leadership development or the delivery of wellbeing initiatives, was sufficiently or positively embedded.

“While some of what we heard was deeply concerning and it was clear some individuals had strong feelings about their experiences at work, this survey showed the importance of leaders actively listening to concerns when they are raised, and where possible, seeking to resolve issues that impact on staff confidence in leadership and organisational culture,” said Ms Durkin.
The report also focused on the work being undertaken and attention given to supporting staff wellbeing.
“The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic led to an increase in staff communication around wellbeing with a greater focus on ensuring all staff were aware that support was available to them,” said Ms Durkin.
“While staff in most organisations believed their line managers understood the importance of wellbeing, feedback from people in some organisations indicated that access to specialist support in times of difficulty could be slow and difficult to navigate.
“We know personal and professional issues and challenges impact on wellbeing. In the criminal justice system that can include attending a horrific crime scene or road traffic collision, dealing with evidence in a child sexual abuse case or being present during a lengthy criminal trial listening to harrowing evidence or caring for prisoners who repeatedly self-harm.
“We have recommended that bespoke wellbeing support should be provided to Public Prosecution Service staff working in roles in the Serious Crime Unit or regional offices that have the potential to cause psychological harm, with consideration given to the delivery of joint wellbeing interventions with Police Officers working in the Public Protection Units.
“It is important that staff have access to preventative wellbeing initiatives and organisations develop ways to effectively evaluate them to assess their impact on performance measures such as sickness absence and employee engagement as part of the design and planning process,” she said.
In conclusion the Chief Inspector stressed the importance and impact of effective leadership and how that contributes to the criminal justice system operating as a system.
“Delivering transformation, maintaining quality services and implementing legislation and policies is dependent on leaders who are not afraid to take decisions and build skilled teams who can face the future with confidence. I appreciate how challenging that can be, particularly in a difficult funding environment.
“But it is important criminal justice leaders work together to promote opportunities for new leaders to learn together about the criminal justice system and their part in it to enable opportunities for collaboration and real partnerships to develop,” said the Chief Inspector.