The Ulster Unionist Party’s Justice Spokesperson, Doug Beattie MC MLA, has said that the high cost of maintaining a separated prison regime is affecting the NI Prison Service’s ability to pay Prison officers an environmental allowance equivalent to Police officers.
Doug Beattie MC MLA said:
“It is difficult to understand why Prison Officers – one of those key services that keep our society safe – who are under serious threat from dissident republicans beyond their work place, are paid less in an environmental allowance than Police Officers who face the exact same threat. The difference, even after the present pay deal, is over £400 a year. But this is about more than just money; this is about being valued for a job that is both dangerous inside the workplace and dangerous outside, whilst not on duty, and a recognition that the risk they face is no less than that of the police. Yet the environmental allowance – referred to by many as a risk allowance – is a totemic issue and one of many still to be resolved.
“Of course there must be some sympathy for the Northern Ireland Prison Service as it tries to deliver a high grade service under severe financial pressure and a regime that has been forced on them by decisions made by Direct Rule Ministers in 2002.
“It is clear that the Separated Prison regime is acting like a dead-weight on the Northern Ireland Prison Service and it is dragging down the delivery of service to other parts of the organisation due to significant financial and resourcing issues. An extra £2 million per year is spent on just 28 prisoners at HMP Maghaberry and one at Hydebank Wood College. This is clearly a disproportionate resource that is at odds with how society and the Department of Justice hope to deal with those linked to paramilitarism.
“Having met the Prison Service Director General recently, it is clear the Prisons 2020 Plan shows real signs of innovation, rationalisation and modernisation that will propel the prisons estate and its workforce into the 21st century. Yet for it to have real worth, to deliver what the Director General envisages and raise the profile of a service that fulfils an invaluable role, then there must be a shift in Government thinking around our prisons. Therefore, given that a direct rule minister instigated the separated prison regime, and given that it is the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) and Secretary of State who give authorisation for individuals to enter that regime – including a single female prisoner who requires disproportionate supervision – then it is surely reasonable to require that the NIO should pick up the cost.
“If the NIO picked up the cost of the separated regime at both HMP Maghaberry and Hydebank Wood College, it would be a game changer for the prison service, the future of the prison service in Northern Ireland and its workforce. It would allow the Director General to pay prison officers the same environmental allowance as PSNI officers, giving a clear signal that their role is valued in parity with other similar services. It might also make them think twice about allowing individuals to enter the separated regime for criminal acts, even if they claim a paramilitary title.
“I am, of course, against any individual being given special treatment while in prison and have raised this on multiple occasions at various forums. However, if we are to retain this system in the long term as a separate operating regime, then it needs to be funded as a separate operating regime and that cost should be borne by the NIO.”