CJI review underlines need to support prison officers and staff

DUP North Antrim MLA and Justice Committee Chairperson Mervyn Storey has said concerns raised by the Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland review into the operation of Care and Supervision Units underline the rising need to deliver better support for prison officers and staff.

Commenting, he said:

‘Those in care and supervision units represent a fraction of the prison population but that in no way diminishes the need to address the legitimate concerns identified by this Review. However it needs to be remembered that this inspection took place during the pandemic and lock down and at a time when the Prison Service was experiencing 17% absenteeism and yet Covid levels in the prison population was almost none existent.

The onus is now on the Department and prison authorities to look carefully at the findings and introduces the checks and balances required to secure better outcomes.

Importantly, inspectors encountered many staff who demonstrated compassion for the prisoners and patients in their care. However, they were also clear that staff have been let down by poor facilities and a lack of proper training.

Therefore, we should resist any temptation to scapegoat our prison officers for failings that are largely symptomatic of a failure to continue to invest in, enhance and modernise our Prison Service. CJINI pointed to a range of factors, including a lack of appropriate in-patient facilities for those who are vulnerable or mentally-ill, poor oversight, outdated record keeping and a lack of professional health care staff. There is an urgent need for the Health Minister to agree with the Justice Minister how these matter are going to be addressed.

The £12m shortfall in the draft budget for Prison Service will simply serve to add to these pressures and deny frontline staff the support and tools they desperately need to do the job. It is vital that the Justice Minister ensures any action plan brought forward in response to CJINI’s concerns contains the necessary investment to bring lasting change.’’

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