Doug Beattie MC MLA, the Ulster Unionist Party’s Upper Bann Assembly Member has met with top Prison Service management to discuss a range of issues facing the service and in particularly which impact on staff.
Doug Beattie MC, who is the Ulster Unionist Justice spokesperson, said:
“I remain incredibly impressed by the men and women of the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS). Their can do/will do attitude is exemplified by their professionalism and dedication as well as their deep understanding that prisons should not just be warehouses to lock people up in.
“Although there are many challenges, they are committed to safeguarding individuals in their charge in order to return them to society rehabilitated and ready to play an active role in the community.
“My meeting with the Director General of the Prison Service, Ronnie Armour, and the acting Governor of Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP) Maghaberry, David Kennedy, was both informative and frank.
“I raised three issues that have concerned me most over the last twelve months; prison staffing levels; prison officers pay and conditions; as well as the separated prison regime. In doing so I was hearted to hear that the Director General has a clear plan to raise the number of prison officers by the end of this year and a long term plan to maintain that operational staffing level with an in-built resilience.
“I was also pleased to hear both he and the Governor express support for the Prison Officers Association (POA) call for the same level of environmental pay as is afforded the PSNI, the reduction of the incremental pay levels from 7 to 5 and a pay rise that takes into account inflation by making it a consolidated. This is an issue I have raised previously and one that cannot be taken forward by the Prison Service Pay Review Body until a Minister is in place.
“However they expressed concern that monies allocated to the PSNI by the NIO to tackle criminality should also include an increment for the NIPS for them to facilitate the PSNI’s success.
“It was also clear that the separated regime at HMP Maghaberry was having a detrimental effect on the whole of the prison service. An extra £2million per year is needed to maintain the regime for just 36 prisoners over and above the normal prison spend. Again, this is an issue highlighted by the Ulster Unionist Party in 2016 with no support from other parties. As we strive to normalise society we are unwittingly normalising separation in our prisons.
“I was reassured at the end of the meeting that a plan was in place to cover the position of Prisoner Ombudsman after Tom McGonigle retired from the post. Again, this is a position that cannot be filled until the Executive is up and running and a Justice Minister is in place.
“I was further impressed by the Director’s plan for the Prison Service 2020 which clearly focuses on professional output, infrastructure and workforce. A vision that has been lacking over the last number of years.
“I will continue to press the Department Ministry for Justice on their plans for the NIPS as I will continue to support the POA. It is time society acknowledged just how much we rely on the men and women of our Prison Service and just how difficult their job is.”