Prison Review Team: Final Report

Private Members’ Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 5:00 pm on 14 November 2011.

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Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP 5:00, 14 November 2011

As two amendments have been selected, there will be one hour and 45 minutes allowed for the debate. The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes in which to propose the motion and a further 10 minutes in which to make a winding-up speech. The proposer of each amendment will have 10 minutes to propose, with a further five minutes in which to make a winding-up speech. All other Members who wish to speak will have five minutes.

Photo of Sean Lynch Sean Lynch Sinn Féin

I beg to move

That this Assembly welcomes the final report of the prison review team; and calls on the Minister of Justice to initiate a plan to ensure that the report’s recommendations are implemented and that progress is monitored; and further calls on the Minister to ensure that the appropriate scrutiny and accountability mechanisms are in place.

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire anseo inniu le héisteacht leis an díospóireacht ar an ábhar tábhachtach seo. I welcome the Minister to the House for this important debate. I support the motion.

The review of the Prison Service is one of the biggest challenges that the Minister will face in his role as Minister of Justice, and he does not need me to tell him that. The Anne Owers review is the latest in a series of reports and reviews into the NI Prison Service.

I do not wish to rehash details of those now. I believe that we should take this opportunity to establish a new beginning for the Prison Service. Suffice it to say that all the reports had a common thread: the Prison Service is not fit for purpose; it is living in a different era; and it is in need of fundamental root-and-branch change.

However, the Owers report does more than highlight the major problems in the Prison Service. It sets out a clear vision of what needs to be done and emphasises the importance of acting urgently to realise the fundamental changes that are long overdue. In the words of the review team, “incremental improvements are not enough”. The momentum must not be lost, and change must not be left to those who have been in charge to date. All the other reports demonstrated that the Prison Service is incapable of implementing even the most modest changes.

The service has consistently reacted negatively to external reviews. In the past year, the Criminal Justice Inspection report showed that the NI Prison Service lacked the capacity to deliver real change on the ground; needed more concerted action in response to critical reports; had a stream of unfinished business; and that its action plans limped along. The report also found that the service lacked ownership and that there had been little systematic learning from those recommendations that had been implemented.

The Committee on the Administration of Justice took a similar view, which was that the response by the NIPS to the various inspection reports resulted in the development of paper-exercise policies and action plans but failed to recognise and address the bigger problems underlined in the recommendations. In the latest review, Anne Owers stated that little had changed in the eight months since her interim report. That clearly highlights the fact, Minister, that a completely new approach is needed. Unless an agenda for change is laid out and involves an implementation plan, accountability mechanisms, decisive leadership and, above all, political will, this report will be run into the sand like all the others.

Last week, a document outlining an exit package for prison staff was published. It was detailed, with i’s dotted and t’s crossed. A similarly detailed and comprehensive package is needed throughout the Prison Service. In most walks of life, what gets measured gets done. The Prison Service’s programme of change needs dedicated management. Oversight is vital in the monitoring and implementation of each of Owers’s recommendations. A dedicated change management team should be put in place urgently and headed by an experienced person who can co-ordinate and oversee the complex change process that is required and report regularly to a steering group and the Committee for Justice.

I understand that the complete programme will involve other Departments, particularly the Health Department and the Department of Education. Therefore, a ministerial team should also be established so that it can have an oversight role in the change process. Criminal Justice Inspection should be given additional resources to carry out independent monitoring of outcomes against recommendations and report regularly to the Justice Minister. The Minister’s top priority should be to keep the House updated.

I call on the Minister to ensure that this happens. He must take ownership and become the driver in the overall process of management. His leaving it to officials from his Department would result in little change. As I outlined earlier, the NIPS has a history of resistance to positive change. The report also clearly states that the next six months are vital. I agree, because a delay would give those with intentions of cherry-picking and a culture of resistance a chance to gain the upper hand, leaving the Minister with even greater challenges.

It is time for action. We have had too many reports. I read that there have been 23 — that must be a record. We are in a new dispensation, so let us move the Prison Service into the 21st century. The Minister asked for support last month, when the review was published. He will have my party’s support and, hopefully, that of all parties in the House. However, we will hold him to account to ensure that the Owers review team’s recommendations are implemented in full, so that we will not have to come back to the House as another report gathers dust like the previous ones.

I urge all parties to support the motion and amendment No 2. It is in our interest as political representatives to have a modern Prison Service that has public confidence: we should all agree on that. This is a golden opportunity that cannot be allowed to be lost, and the onus is on the Minister to ensure that that does not happen.

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

I beg to move the following amendment: Delete all after “Assembly” and insert

“notes the publication of the final report of the prison review team; calls on the Minister of Justice to initiate an immediate public consultation on the report; and further calls on the Minister, following the consultation period, to work with the Executive to agree a way forward.”

I declare an interest that I have family members who have worked, and still work, for the Prison Service. Dame Anne Owers’s report was produced by academics and practitioners, all of whom are very well meaning individuals. Indeed, I do not think that anyone can deny that a lot of the work that they did was very comprehensive, given the time that it took and the different organisations that were engaged in the process. It is undoubtedly a comprehensive piece of work.

However, justification for the continued investment of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money into the Prison Service requires the public to buy into the process. That is why, as with the previous review into youth justice, for example, our amendment asks for the document to be made public and for the public to be able to have their say. No one should be afraid of what the public have to say on these important issues. The service, which is provided through the Northern Ireland Prison Service, requires public support. Some would say that, at times, the services provided to prisoners in the name of rehabilitation are unrivalled by what is available on the outside. Therefore, there needs to be public justification for the expenditure that exists in the Prison Service.

I am all for the rehabilitation and reform of the individual who is incarcerated. Vast amounts of money are being spent, and let us ensure that those resources are being spent effectively. I believe that quite a number of recommendations in the report will do that, but there are some with which I have great difficulty. We need public support for what is being proposed. The law-abiding citizens who campaign on education issues — as I did today on Knockmore Primary School earlier today — health issues and so on will want justification for the expenditure in the Northern Ireland Prison service.

If you ask people whether prison works — I hesitate to suggest it — most will say that they do not think so. It is in addressing that issue that I think the House will differ. Is the solution to move further along the pendulum of rehabilitation and reform, or is it to ensure that a deterrent is put in place in the system to address why prison is not working?

Lord Ashcroft, a founder member and chairman of Crimsetoppers, produced a report following an extensive research project and a survey of thousands of people. In it, he states:

“If prison doesn’t work, they say, make it work. For them, the problem with prison is not that it fails to turn criminals into model citizens, but that it does not deter criminals from breaking the law. As they see it, sentences are too short to begin with because they are determined by the availability of prison spaces, not by the seriousness of the crime. And once an offender has experienced prison life — free board and lodging, with complimentary satellite TV, PlayStation, pool table and gym membership — it is hardly surprising that they seem so willing to go back again and again. That is not to say people think prison serves no purpose. Even short sentences, though offering too little time for proper rehabilitation, give the public precious respite from the prodigiously prolific offenders who are responsible for the majority of crime, and those who repeatedly breach non-custodial punishments.”

The vision behind that report is to make society safer by reducing reoffending, which is a noble objective with which no one in the House will disagree. What the report fails to acknowledge or provide any direction on is how to deal with prisoners who do not conform or do not engage in any attempt at rehabilitation and, indeed, aggressively challenge the system.

No mention was made of those individuals. If anybody in the House suggests to me that every prisoner is up for rehabilitation, they are kidding themselves. A system that fails to take that into account will ultimately fail in its entirety.

The Minister stated that the model prison is one that supports and reflects human rights standards and ethical values. I really wonder about the type of prison service that we want to create. Is it one that gets bogged down in the quagmire of the section 75 agenda, the human rights agenda or the ethical standards agenda, where the victim will ask, “What happened to my human rights? What happened when the perpetrator —”

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

In a moment, if I might develop this. The victim will ask, “What happened to my rights when the crime was committed against me?” When the report is considered, we need to ensure that we never forget the victims in the process. There is no reflection from those individuals who refuse to conform. Recommendation 38 states: “Under-18s should not be held at Hydebank Wood.”

I could not support that recommendation. It is an ideological, human rights agenda-driven objective that is certainly not based on the reality of what happens in prison. I was in Hydebank recently, where there were under-18s who could not be housed in Woodlands because of the difficulties that they present. In one case, when the father of a 15-year-old child came to visit, he attempted to pass the child drugs, even though he was behind a perspex screen. When officers came to stop that from happening, the child attempted to break down the perspex barrier, and almost did, only for the officers’ actions in ensuring that that did not happen. It is brought to my attention repeatedly that there are those under the age of 18, whom many in the House would define as being a child, who exhibit all the very aggressive and very challenging characteristics of adults. I could not support the recommendation that all children be put into Woodlands. Indeed, it would be to the detriment of those who are housed in Woodlands to have someone of that disruptive nature there. It would undermine what Woodlands is about. Therefore, I have particular difficulty with that recommendation.

It is important that there be consequences for bad behaviour, and the report does not highlight those consequences. It is important to have something that will act as a deterrent. That applies to those who are inside the prison and those who are on the outside — those either engaged in or considering criminal activity. I have raised this issue before, but why is it that the prospect of going to prison is the number one deterrent for individuals contemplating committing a crime until they have been to prison, and then that deterrent value plummets because of their experience in prison? We need a fundamental assessment of why that happens. Do we move to a more rehabilitative approach or — what is needed — a strong deterrent approach, which is clearly absent in the current regime?

The report also highlighted the issue of preferential treatment, which the Minister talked about in his statement, with regard to basic regime and those on adjudication, pointing to, or implying, some kind of religious discrimination taking place in the prison. I put that to Dame Anne Owers, and she said that she did not know what was behind that. In his statement, the Minister spent a considerable time highlighting that, and how important equality and rights are and how discrimination should not be happening. However, there was no evidence whatsoever to merit the inference that has been drawn by the publication of those statistics. The Minister laboured that point in his statement, and he did a disservice to those who have served in the Prison Service. We need actual evidence to substantiate what was implied by its inclusion. Perhaps then we can have a better-informed discussion on why people are on basic regime or on more adjudication.

I will touch briefly on other recommendations. Statutory time limits require serious consideration, and the issue is something that should not be rushed. The proposal on fine defaulters should be taken forward, because I think that they are getting off lightly by spending a couple of days in prison. That is something that will need greater consideration. With regard to full body searches, I put it to Members —

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Will the Member draw his remarks to a close?

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

— that they should be very careful in pursuing that approach, because the use of drugs and contraband is endemic in prisons. Members need to be very careful when trying to change something.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member’s time is up.

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

I, therefore, move our amendment. Let us not be afraid of what the public think about this.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member’s time is up.

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

The public’s view on it may differ to the views of the Minister and others.

Photo of Alban Maginness Alban Maginness Social Democratic and Labour Party

I beg to move amendment No 2: Insert at end

“and that the implementation process begins without delay and is completed within 12 months.”

The Member who has just spoken leaves me breathless and almost speechless with his ‘Porridge’ caricature of prison and contrast between deterrents and rehabilitation. He is the Chair of the Justice Committee, and he indicated that, in general terms, he was supportive of the report. At least that is what I took out of his speech. However, every sentence that he uttered was a criticism or an undermining of the thrust and substance of Anne Owers’s report, which is a culmination of many such previous reports — I think in excess of 20 — that deal with the urgent reform of the Prison Service since the ending of the Troubles and the ending, or supposed ending, of a security-type prison system.

It is so difficult to answer in detail the misguided notions that the Member has presented to the House. The Member inferred that, in some way, Anne Owers and her colleagues are do-gooders, academics or people who have no reference to the reality of prison life. That defies any sort of logic and any sort of factual position. Previously, Anne Owers was Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales. We all know Paul Leighton; he was a Deputy Chief Constable of the PSNI. He is one of the most experienced officers in the Police Service. Clodach McGrory is a barrister, a parole commissioner and a former human rights commissioner. Fergus McNeill is professor of criminology and social work at the University of Glasgow; he is the only academic on the team. Phil Wheatley was director general of the National Offender Management Service for England and Wales. A huge amount of experience was brought to the task of trying to reform our out-of-date, ineffective and excessively expensive Prison Service. Of course, the Member did not mention the expense in relation to the Prison Service, but it is an expense that exceeds anything on these islands.

The fact is this: if we have a Prison Service, we want it to work and we want it to work well. We want to deter people from committing further offences and to ensure that further offences are not committed. We want to secure our society; we want to know that old people and vulnerable people are safe in their home and that young people in the street are not being accosted and attacked and being made the victims of crime. Yes, the way to do that is to deprive people of their liberty; they should be deprived of their liberty in circumstances where that is appropriate. However, it is also essential that people have an opportunity to be rehabilitated so that further offending will not take place. That is the essence of the report.

I and my colleagues — I am grateful to Mr McCartney and his colleagues for tabling the motion — have tabled an amendment that emphasises the need for a time-centred approach to the implementation of the report. It is absolutely essential that we have the discipline of targets and time limits to provide a proper context in which the report can be fully and quickly implemented.

The Anne Owers report emphasises the urgent need for implementation, and it suggests that there should not be further delays or procrastination in carrying out reforms. Unfortunately, the hallmark of the Prison Service has been repeated delays and procrastination in relation to the much-needed reform of the system, which has lead to a system in which prisoners are neglected and locked down for prolonged periods.

The Member mentioned Hydebank Wood. There, young offenders are kept watching TV and doing nothing for excessive periods, because they do not have proper access to the services that they require to re-educate and skill them to become worthy citizens in our community. That is the problem, and that is why they are watching TV. It is not for pleasure but because of a lack of useful exercise and activities. Hydebank Wood needs to be completely reformed, so that all the skills and education services are administered by external services. Bring them into Hydebank. Clearly, there has been little or no success in rehabilitating those youngsters in prison, and it is necessary for us to bring people in from outside. If the Prison Service cannot operate effectively, and it cannot deliver the services that are necessary, let others from outside come in and do so. We must have no more of this nonsense whereby people are locked down, so that they cannot commence classes or have a proper period of time in which to skill themselves.

I would say to the Minister that he needs to have a specific programme, and he has produced such a programme in response to the Anne Owers report. However, dates and time limits must also be set, and I know that, in his response, the Minister indicated certain time periods. However, those must be specific and precise, and we must also have the discipline of a timetable, because, otherwise, this will drift further.

Some Members want a further public consultation, yet this issue has been discussed for the past decade, and the people outside this Chamber realise that it has been discussed exhaustively. We now have another report, which is the proper culmination of previous reports and which brings the critical need for urgent reform to our attention. It is absolutely essential that we move quickly on this: time is of the essence, and we must seize this opportunity now.

In her report, Anne Owers talked specifically about dealing with the work practices in the Prison Service, which are antiquated and go back to the 1970s. She also talked about addressing the issue of overmanning in the Prison Service. We have one prison warder for every prisoner, which is absolutely absurd. Why should that be allowed to continue? It is necessary that the exit package is implemented quickly, and I know that the Minister, through the Prison Service, has negotiated with the trade unions to permit an exit package that will commence in March of next year.

That is good, and that is progress, but we have got to stick rigidly to that timetable and we have got to accelerate the process, so that we can see genuine reform. Those people who no longer wish to stay in the service should leave it as quickly as possible. My party and I support that, and we support the Minister in his attempt to bring about urgent reform. That is essential. We can no longer sit back and say: “Ah well, it’ll be all right on the night; it’ll sort itself out in a period of time”. These issues are too important to be delayed.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea UUP 5:30, 14 November 2011

Mr Deputy Speaker, the proposers of the amendments have advanced a number of arguments. I am not yet convinced about the merit of any or all of them. So, as you can see, backed by my entire party, [Laughter.] we wait to see exactly what way the debate goes. We will listen with interest to the arguments that are put forward.

I have to say that the report is definitely on the liberal side of the agenda. I look forward to seeing if any of my fellow liberals are going to weigh in on this. The argument has been made, and it is a serious point, that we have to convince the people of Northern Ireland that these proposals are for the better of all concerned. People in general, and specifically those who have been victims of crime, need to be reassured that any steps that we take here will result, hopefully, in a reduction in crime, the number of criminals in prison and, potentially, even the cost —

Photo of Alban Maginness Alban Maginness Social Democratic and Labour Party

Does the Member accept that the present system has produced an excess of repeat criminal behaviour and that, given that that is the present position, it is better to move to a new, reformed position, in which reoffending may significantly reduce?

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member has an extra minute.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea UUP

Yes, I accept the argument put forward by Mr Maginness. I think that change is required. Certainly, there are deficiencies in many areas. In fact, those prison officers and others who are involved in the issue and to whom I have spoken have indicated that they would like to see change. It is worth putting on the record that many good people are prison officers who work really hard and who would like to see change. Thank goodness for reinforcements, Mr Kinahan. Such people would like to see change, because the job of a prison officer or any of the other support staff is pretty difficult.

A Member, who cannot be here today, said to me that going to prisons and seeing what it is actually like inside them changes your opinion. In the past four weeks, I have been to three prisons, and each trip has informed my thinking. That is part of the reason that there is some difficulty with the consultation process. Prison is such a specialised and expert area that it needs people with background experience to investigate it diligently and come forward with recommendations.

It is important to say that it was put to me that some people think that this is just an exit strategy for Protestants, in much the same way as there was a change to the police. People are worried about whether that is the agenda here. So, I think that we have to reassure people that we are making a real attempt to change the service because it is too expensive; that the type of prisons that we had in the past are no longer appropriate for the future; and that there is a better way of doing things. Nevertheless, we should not hide behind issues: we should confront them.

I am also conscious of the exit package on offer to prison officers. The first thing to say is that it should not be coercive; it should be an option for those who feel that, having considered their personal circumstances, they want to move on.

People who wish to stay should stay, and they should be respected and get the training and support necessary to help them to get through what will, undoubtedly, be a changing environment. I also have to say that a change manager is required. There will be so much work on a day-to-day basis that, frankly, it will be difficult to manage the whole thing. So a change manager with a change plan, which is properly costed and in which all the issues are brought out, will go a long way towards making the service more successful.

The issue with the DUP amendment, which other Members might address, is that there should not be too much delay. The trouble is that reports in the past have just sat on the shelf. As Alban Maginness said, it is clear that we need to make some changes — the question is which changes — so we have to make sure that we do not delay unnecessarily. However, we do not want to move precipitously and do the wrong thing.

I am not convinced about a number of issues. On the argument about whether everybody should be in the juvenile justice centre at Woodlands, I think that offenders should be in the most appropriate establishment to deal with what the risk assessment says is the issue. That is not an age-related issue. In other areas, such as supervised activity, more pilots should be run. Nevertheless, my party is convinced that the report produced by Dame Anne Owers is a fine piece of work.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Will the Member bring his remarks to a close, please?

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea UUP

We are interested in moving forward. We want to be progressive and to reassure the public that we are doing the right thing. We reserve our position at the moment.

Photo of Stewart Dickson Stewart Dickson Alliance

The debate is not just about reform of the Prison Service but about what we want for our society in 21st-century Northern Ireland. At this milestone, it is important for us to remember the sacrifices made by our Prison Service over the past 40 years. At this time of remembrance, it is important that we remember the sacrifice made by prison officers. We must also remember and continue to provide support for the victims of crime, whom other Members mentioned. Those negatively affected by crime must be helped to deal with their experiences and rebuild their lives. When considering major changes in the way in which we deal with offenders, it is appropriate that we recognise the needs of victims. I welcome the Department’s continued efforts in those areas.

The report makes clear the real need for change in our prison system, particularly in the way in which we deal with offenders. It is evident that punishment is needed. It is also evident that, to prevent reoffending, prisoners need to be supported. That is for the sake of not only the individual but society as a whole. Many prisoners suffer from serious mental health and other health issues, substance addiction and other problems that contribute significantly to offending behaviour. If unaddressed, those problems will lead to reoffending and further cost to the system. That does not even take into account the appalling suicide rate of prisoners and our failure to prevent that situation. Rehabilitation, therefore, needs to be at the centre of any future strategy. I welcome the recommendations in the report and the efforts made so far to make those in health and social care and in employment and learning work more closely with the criminal justice system, as others have said. We, of course, also need to deal with those who refuse rehabilitation.

Before discussing the amendments, I would like to commend the Members who tabled the motion for highlighting the importance of effective oversight, in which the recommendations of the report are grounded. That is important in our Prison Service, as it is in other areas of the justice system, and will help to create the public confidence needed.

The DUP amendment calls for immediate public consultation on the report. As other Members said, I do not think that that party appreciates the report’s sense of urgency. We must remember that, as already highlighted, it was written by people with expertise. It is important that things are done properly and that the public have confidence in the reforms being taken forward.

We should, therefore, consult on the aspects of the report that justify it, such as legislative measures to reduce delay. However, consulting publicly on everything would simply delay urgently needed reform and perhaps serve to cloud the situation further. Similarly, it is important that the Executive agree on the cross-cutting aspects. However, the majority of the report’s recommendations are not cross-cutting, and, given the urgency stressed in the report, we have an opportunity to press forward with those.

I will move on to the SDLP amendment. Although I share the SDLP’s enthusiasm about reforms being implemented swiftly, we must ensure that they are implemented carefully and properly to balance the way in which the report is moved forward. The scale of the required prison reform is already being compared with the Patten reforms for policing. We know that those changes did not take place in such a short time frame. Setting aside 12 months for completion would mean settling for less reform than is needed, which I cannot support. The current SEE programme has lasted for four years. A 12-month completion date is like trying to bulldoze through the reforms in one quarter of that time without appropriate care and thoroughness. The public would not thank us for that.

The importance of the report cannot be overemphasised. It is long overdue and will benefit our society as a whole by helping to reduce reoffending and by providing a modern, caring prison service that not only deals with those in prison but reassures victims of crime about safer communities. For the reasons that I have outlined, I support the motion and oppose both amendments.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

The debate has key three issues: process, content and timing. A number of questions need to be posed. Is reform or change needed? Yes, they are. The fact that events have moved on and the levels of costing disparities, albeit some of them justified, clearly show that some reform is necessary. That is why we have proposed our amendment and rejected the SDLP amendment. We have one opportunity to get this right, and the details are important. It is not the sensible way forward to stagger headlong into accepting and implementing the report in its totality.

The report has good parts. Members have highlighted the emphasis that is placed on increased collaborative departmental working. There has been a silo mentality, and, in the past, the Department of Health and the Department of Education have not had their full input. Although I have some reservations, the package seems to be reasonably well pitched to current prison officers. I have one caveat: if there were to be changes in personnel in the Prison Service, we cannot simply afford to divest ourselves of all those with experience. That would not be helpful.

The proposers of the second amendment have highlighted the qualifications of those who compiled the report; I do not doubt those qualifications. The fact that people have experience does not mean that they have been granted magical powers of infallibility or that any report should be treated as holy writ.

That brings me to the key elements of the report. Some of the parties opposite tell us that we should not consult in any way. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Alliance Party seems to have an imaginative solution that rejects full consultation and no consultation but instead suggests a halfway house. There has been no public consultation on the report, so it is not an issue of further consultation. Are we saying that we cannot trust people’s opinions on the report? That is the implication. If we want community buy-in, we must have proper levels of consultation.

I agree with Basil McCrea about timing. We are not talking about undue delay, but neither should we be precipitous. This is our one bite of the cherry, and we must make sure that we get prison reform right. The SDLP amendment, which time bounds the consultation to a relatively short period, is a foolish way forward.

I have to say that, although there are a lot of elements in this report that all of us can accept, as has been highlighted, there are elements that some of us have difficulty buying in to. I do not think that it properly tackles an acceptance that some people can be serial reoffenders, as the proposer of the amendment says. The way to tackle those people is absent from this report.

Similarly, I have grave reservations about recommendation 2, which would set statutory time limits between arrest and disposal. There is no doubt that quicker access to justice is something that, broadly speaking, most people would welcome. If we can get cases to court and have them dealt with, that is to the advantage of those who are accused and, indeed, of the victim. However, setting a statutory time limit would inevitably rebound on us. We would be left in a situation where the more complex cases would take longer to get to court. Are we simply going to release some of the most serious offenders on to the streets because they have not met a statutory time limit?

Similarly, a one-size-fits-all approach has been mentioned, and recommendation 38 deals with under-18s at Hydebank. Again, as Mr McCrea indicated, that recommendation should operate on the basis of risk assessment. A blanket proposal that says simply that no one under 18 should go to Hydebank is unacceptable.

There are elements in this report that it would not be right to move forward. We have to make sure that we get the detail right. That is why simply —

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP 5:45, 14 November 2011

Will the Member draw his remarks to a close?

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

Simply giving carte blanche to this report, without having a critical examination, a public consultation and, indeed, an examination of what needs to move forward, because we need to get this right —

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member’s time is up

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

Simply giving a tick to this is not acceptable.

Photo of Jennifer McCann Jennifer McCann Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I support the motion, oppose the DUP amendment and, obviously, want to look at the SDLP amendment in the spirit that it has been offered. My main reason for opposing the DUP amendment is that I see it as a delaying tactic. It is not that we do not trust people in the community and their views; that is very much not the case, and I do not think that anyone is saying that. It is the very fact that, as someone mentioned, there have been something like 23 reports on the prisons here. Really, we need to be doing something now about the reform that is needed, not delaying it again by putting it out to consultation.

Members raised a few points here. In the short time that I have, I want to specifically concentrate on women prisoners and young offenders. The economics of the whole situation have been mentioned again. I think that someone from the Benches opposite said that the cost of keeping prisoners in prison is down to their television sets and the activities and so forth that they have. I think that the real cost is the staffing ratio and the security mentality that is still in the prisons. That is where most of the cost comes from.

It is really important to highlight that this report again illustrates and highlights the need for a small, purpose-built prison for women, not a prison within a prison, as is the case in Hydebank. We need to take that forward. It is also worth talking about fine default, because somebody mentioned it earlier. That is another issue that will hopefully be coming through the Assembly very soon. Over half the women who went to prison in 2010 were there for non-payment of fines. That is a very important statistic. Also, most women who go to prison do not reoffend when they come out. We need to look at why we send so many women to prison.

When you send women to prison, you are not just imprisoning those women; you are having an impact on their families as well, particularly if they are the carers for their children, single parent families and so on. We need to be looking at why, in 2010, over half the women who were put in prison were there for fine default.

We have to understand that many people cannot pay fines now. When a fine is set in court, a person’s ability to pay it needs to be considered. Often, it is not the case that the person does not want to pay the fine but that he or she simply cannot pay it.

I have to agree that offenders who are under 18 years of age should be moved to Woodlands. I have visited female prisoners and young offenders in Hydebank Wood. Mr Maginness is correct to say that young people in prison need activity. They need to set their minds to tasks and have activities to do during the day. In places such as Hydebank, it is very clear that that is not the case. People are locked up for far too long in all prisons. There should be controlled movement.

Someone mentioned full body searches. In the past, strip searches, as I would rather call them, have been used in prisons to humiliate and degrade prisoners. That can sometimes be the case even now. We must look at that issue as well. We cannot simply ignore it.

When we look at the report, it is important that we see its aims. We are trying to move into a new era. We are trying to look forward. Prison reform is needed. We must look beyond the security aspect of prisons. When we look at controlled movement, for example, there is no reason that prisoners cannot be out of their cells for longer periods. There is no reason whatsoever that prisoners should be locked up as punishment and denied association with other prisoners.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member must draw her remarks to a close.

Photo of Jennifer McCann Jennifer McCann Sinn Féin

Reform needs to be brought forward. To put the matter out to consultation will only delay reform. It needs to be done now.

Photo of Sydney Anderson Sydney Anderson DUP

I oppose the motion and amendment No 2. I speak in support of amendment No 1, which my party tabled.

I am not opposed to the reform of the Prison Service. Indeed, all organisations, especially those in the public sector, should reform, modernise and adapt constantly to changing circumstances and times. However, that is not the aim of the motion or the SDLP amendment. They demand to proceed with indecent haste. They seek to ride roughshod over the Assembly’s established and agreed scrutiny arrangements. In short, they are a recipe for making a mess of prison reform.

Of course, the motion and amendment No 2 come from the very same people who campaigned for the destruction of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. What was the result of that? Ten years later, the Police Service still suffers from the loss of much valuable policing experience. Although I pay tribute to the work of the PSNI, the loss of the RUC was a blow from which we have never quite recovered. We must not make same mistake with reform of the Prison Service.

It is worthwhile noting that the Sinn Féin Members who tabled the motion have very particular experience of prison. The Assembly should be careful about taking guidance on prison reform from anyone who was convicted of terrorist-related offences. Let us not forget that, during the long years of the Troubles, terrorists murdered prison officers and left others, and their families, scarred and traumatised. The Prison Service deserves a debt of gratitude. The exit package that is currently being proposed for prison officers is a step in the right direction. However, we must always remember the suffering and sacrifice of prison officers and their families over many decades. Any final settlement will need to take that sacrifice into account. Prison officers have been in regular contact with me, and I will do all that I can to ensure that they are treated in a dignified and respectable manner.

The SDLP amendment argues for even faster implementation of reform. That has been further reinforced by Mr Maginness in the debate. The report of the prison review team was published just a few weeks ago, on 24 October 2011. It makes some radical and controversial statements and proposals. The debate is not the time to go into them. That is not the subject of the debate. It is about the speed of reform. The motion and the SDLP amendment conveniently ignore the complexities of the issues and the overriding need to get reform right.

Napoleon Bonaparte said:

“Order marches with weighty and measured strides. Disorder is always in a hurry.”

That is the danger in the motion and in the SDLP amendment. Our amendment recognises the need for an ordered, balanced and rational assessment of the report and for wide-ranging debate on the issues. It also recognises the role that must be played by the devolved institution and the general public. We can and will support some of the recommendations in Dame Anne Owers’s report, but we have considerable difficulty with others, and we will not be rushed. As a party, we will take our time, and we will consult.

All the recommendations need to be carefully considered by the Justice Committee, the Assembly and the Executive. That is only right and proper. We feel very strongly that there should be a period of public consultation. That is vital, especially bearing in mind the significance of what is being proposed.

Our priority at all times must be to protect the victims of crime and to support a robust criminal justice approach to the perpetrators. That will do much more to help restore public confidence than what is being proposed by Sinn Féin and the SDLP. I know that the Minister is keen to keep the process moving, and I fully understand that we cannot stand still, but I hope that he will not be swayed by the arguments of Members opposite. Shakespeare said:

“To climb steep hills

Requires slow pace at first:”

We are embarking on radical reform. The hill is steep. Let us take our time. Let us get it right. I oppose the motion and amendment No 2 and commend amendment No 1 to the House.

Photo of John McCallister John McCallister UUP

My colleague Mr McCrea has summed up more than I could ever put into words on this important subject. [Laughter.]

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea UUP

Will the Member give way?

Photo of John McCallister John McCallister UUP

Yes, I am happy to give way.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

I wonder if the Member is looking for an early release from this motion.

Photo of John McCallister John McCallister UUP

Yes, I might well, but I want to hear the other intervention.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea UUP

I thank my party’s deputy leader for turning up to give me moral support and to say that we are listening intently and following every single move that people are making and the arguments that are being put forward in what is a very important area. The issues have been brought forward, and we will make a serious decision at the end of the debate.

Photo of John McCallister John McCallister UUP

I am grateful to my colleague for that. I was almost waiting for Mr Anderson to challenge the Minister by using his Shakespeare lines and saying, “To reform, or not to reform: that is the question.”

I suppose the debate is probably over the speed at which we reform.

Photo of Conall McDevitt Conall McDevitt Social Democratic and Labour Party

I did not expect to be on my feet so quickly. This is one of those debates where we appear to discuss an issue as if the past 15 years had not happened, or as if the past 15 years should not have happened. It begs a basic question about who the real prisoners in this debate are. Are they the many people who we lock up for fine default only to release them two days later? Are they the boys? In response to Mr Givan, I do not know any other way of describing someone who has not reached the age of maturity. I do not know whether there is a debate about the fact that if you are under 18, you are simply not an adult — not in this United Kingdom, as Mr Givan would like us to refer to this place, not in this European Union, not even, as far as I am aware, in this civilised world. I do not think they are the real prisoners in this debate. I think that the real prisoners are behind some bars on that long Bench over there. They are prisoners of their own past: prisoners of a rhetoric that has run out of steam and of an argument that has run out of any sense of validity. They are out of touch with their community. I can say that with absolute confidence because when you have the great privilege of representing a constituency like mine, you meet many people from the community that the party opposite purports to represent.

This is not a touchstone issue in that community. What is a touchstone issue is whether we find the courage in ourselves and in this House to reform everything around us in the spirit of the mandate that the people have given us through the Good Friday Agreement and through the subsequent agreements and elections.

The real issue is blatantly obvious: a system that is no longer fit for purpose. It is a system that, tragically, is still riven with inequalities, which were starkly exposed in the report by Dame Anne Owers and her team. They are inequalities that remind us that if you are of one religious denomination and are in prison, you are nearly eight times more likely to be on a low regime than if you are of another denomination. They remind us that if you are young and from a socially deprived background, you are so much more likely to find yourself in an inappropriate care regime in the wrong type of custodial environment, and, frankly, having your destiny predetermined by others, and not in a positive way, or a way that is likely to give you a second chance, or mean that you leave whatever arrangement you have been committed to in a stronger place, but the opposite. It is a system that condemns you to repeat your mistakes.

It would be very positive if we broke out of our cages and closed mindsets and stepped into some of the hard and sad realities that the report presents us with, and faced up, as mature legislators, to addressing them. Colleagues quoted many people today. I am always struck by Martin Luther King, who used to speak about the “fierce urgency of now”. It is about knowing that there are times when you have to move, even if it means moving out of a comfort zone and into a new space. In moving, you do not just make life better for those who have been advocating change; you make life better for everyone. The time has come for this House to embrace the fierce urgency of now.

Photo of Lord Maurice Morrow Lord Maurice Morrow DUP 6:00, 14 November 2011

Listening to some of the speeches, I wonder what planet some people are on. It strikes me that there are people who just do not get it; I do not care how many reports come out or how much they hear, they will still not get it. I listened intently to a very animated Mr Maginness, who blamed society for every prisoner who is put away. He spoke of how the prison regime has failed everybody, how society has failed those people so that they now end up in prison, and when they go into prison there are no facilities for them. They cannot do any work; they have no recreation, no libraries and no books to read. There are absolutely no facilities.

Mr McDevitt chastised these Benches for being out of touch. We just happen to have around three times the number of seats that his party has, but we are still out of touch.

Photo of Lord Maurice Morrow Lord Maurice Morrow DUP

On this issue he says that we are out of touch. We have had about 20 reports on prison reform, how and why the prison regime is not working and why it does not produce. Some Members opposite are former inmates; they have tasted the system and seem to have come out of it quite well. They look healthy enough to me, and I suspect that when they were there they used the facilities to educate themselves and to ensure that they got the very best from it. Yet we are told that it is still not good enough.

I am not going to be disparaging of the authors of the report, because I believe that they have been sincere. However, there are omissions in the report. Whether that is deliberate or unintentional, I am not sure. However, nowhere in the report do its authors make proposals to change things. They simply say that the whole prison regime has failed, that it is not fit for purpose and it should no longer exist.

However, the report does say that what happens inside prison reflects what happens outside it, and that is true. We have had police reform; we all remember that. In the past, through the Belfast Agreement, courtesy of Mr McCrea’s party, the gates of the prisons were flung open, and it was said that the way to deal with prisoners was to let them all out, send them home and tell them to have a good time. There is no indication —

Photo of Alban Maginness Alban Maginness Social Democratic and Labour Party

Did they reoffend? [Interruption.]

Photo of Lord Maurice Morrow Lord Maurice Morrow DUP

Did they reoffend? I thought that Marian Price was let out and put back in again. She is locked away again.

Photo of Lord Maurice Morrow Lord Maurice Morrow DUP

I will, because the Member is obviously going to tell me about others.

Photo of Alban Maginness Alban Maginness Social Democratic and Labour Party

No, no. I am obliged to the Member for allowing me to comment. In fact, very few of those who were released under the Good Friday Agreement — out of I do not know how many hundreds of prisoners — reoffended. Does that not mean something? Does that not indicate that that programme of early release was, in fact, a proper one?

Photo of Lord Maurice Morrow Lord Maurice Morrow DUP

Mr Maginness fails to deal with the hurt and offence that that caused to the innocent victims; that is grossly missing from the report. I am not saying that there cannot be prison reform — I am not saying that at all — but let us make it clear by sending a message from this elected House that we have respect for victims, that we have a care and a concern, and that we strenuously believe that if you do the crime, you must do the time. I know that that is a cliché and that it is a bit worn out, but it still stands very true today. An open-prison regime that concentrates solely on the rights of the prisoner or the criminal and gives little or no regard to those who have suffered at the hands of those people will not stand the test of time.

There are those on the opposite Benches who look through rose-tinted glasses and say that criminals are not such bad people after all and that we must ensure that they have their plasma TVs and their comforts. I could read out a reply that the Minister gave me about the comforts that have been provided for prisoners such as Dolours Price — if that is her name — and Marian Price and the money that has spent on the comforts that have been given to her to ensure that her human rights have been maintained. There is no talk of the human rights of her victims or those who have suffered at the hands of those criminals — not at all. They are surplus to requirements; they are just a figure in the background.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

The Member must bring his remarks to a close.

Photo of Lord Maurice Morrow Lord Maurice Morrow DUP

If we are to change our prison system, let us ensure that we take the public with us and that we do not ride roughshod over them as we did with the Patten proposals.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

A report of such length is bound to contain some positive matters, and so it does. However, its overall preponderance does not point the way to a better, more effective prison service. There has been much talk about why prison exists. Of course, it has and should have a rehabilitative effect and purpose, but, first and foremost, prison is for punishment: you go to prison because you have offended against the law and deserve to go to prison. When you go to prison, you are there, of course, to see whether you can be rehabilitated, but, first and foremost, to be punished for the crime that you have committed. It is the total absence of deterrents that hallmarks this report.

When you go through, for example, what the review team says are the desirable criteria for recruiting staff, the focus is on staff who understand prisoners, who will work with prisoners, and who will accommodate prisoners. That is all very beneficial in its place, but it is not the primary objective of a prison regime.

You do not have to go very far into the report — only to page 9 — to find its political aspect. You read that prisons have political importance. It states:

“That is why this review was a key part of the Hillsborough Agreement”.

Some who are uneasy with what the report contains should remember that they helped to bring the review about by agreeing to it as part of the Hillsborough agreement. Their fingerprints are all over it, in that regard. The report states that the review was a key part of the Hillsborough agreement and:

“it is why the reform of the prison system, like the reform of policing, is an essential part of the move to a normalised society”.

What do those words mean? We all know about the reform of policing. It had certain key components. Will the same key components be part of the reform of the Prison Service? One of the key components of the reform of policing was an exit strategy to reduce the number of Protestants in the service. Is that subtle language, which states that the reform of the Prison Service must be “like the reform of policing”, being used to cover that?

We also know that the reform of policing involved a name change. Are we going to have a name change of the prisons? Are they no longer going to be Her Majesty’s prisons? Perhaps the Minister, in replying, will confirm to us most robustly that that will not happen. I will listen with interest to see whether he does. Like the reform of policing, is the badge of the Prison Service to be changed? Is the crown to go? Let us hear from the Minister a robust denial that that will be any part of the agenda. When we read that the reform of the Prison Service must be like the reform of policing, alarm bells ring very loudly indeed. We wait with interest to see whether that is part of the machinations that are afoot.

It is no surprise, of course, that those who peopled the prisons and used them as colleges of terrorism should be the chief cheerleaders for a report that would radically reform the prisons, like the police were reformed. It is no surprise at all that their agenda continues to be the utter destruction of the Prison Service, which has been staffed by very brave people who faced the violence and terrorism of the IRA. We had to remember many of them at the weekend because of that. There are too many in the House who would trample on those memories as part of their political agenda —

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Your time is up.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice

— to destroy the Prison Service.

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

I am grateful for the opportunity to engage in debate on what I regard as a landmark report by the prison review team. In making his proposing speech, Seán Lynch highlighted that it is one of the key challenges for my Department. I do not disagree with him in that respect.

On one level, the report is about the sort of prison system that we should have and the steps that we now need to take to realise that. The case for the transformation and modernisation of the Prison Service has been well made by many commentators over the years. There are no longer any reasonable grounds on which the need for reform can be denied. On another level, however, there is a more significant issue underlying the report, which affects all of us in the Assembly and all of those whom we represent. The fundamental question is: what approach should this society take to those who offend most seriously against its rules? I am clear that there needs to be punishment and that there are some cases where the crime or risk factor requires that punishment in the form of a custodial sentence might genuinely be for life, or the vast majority of a life.

However, those are the exceptions.

We also need a society that enables, encourages and supports those who have done wrong to play a positive and meaningful part in the future. That process has to start during the individual’s time in prison, and, crucially, it must also be sustained in the period after. That is the key message permeating the review team’s report. Dame Anne Owers and her team have emphasised that rehabilitation needs to be the core purpose of custody. The report is clear that custody should only ever be used as a last resort, and my Department is already working on a range of measures aimed at ensuring appropriate responses to the different levels of offending.

The report has also highlighted that our prisons do not and should not operate in isolation and that there is a need for collaboration with others, whether in the wider justice system, across other Departments or with partners in the third sector. Collaboration on healthcare, employability, education, learning and skills and other springboards to rehabilitation are all needed for a successful approach to reducing reoffending. I am pleased that the Executive have acknowledged the role that wider government must play in assisting in reducing offending. In the months ahead, I will work with ministerial colleagues to define clearly what more needs to be done in the light of this and other reports to integrate properly the social and economic responses to offending with those of the justice system.

The amendment that has been tabled by Paul Givan and his colleagues calls for the initiation of immediate public consultation on the report. In reaching their conclusions, Dame Anne and her team have already consulted widely. The prison review team report is the last in a long line of reports to highlight the need for fundamental reform across the Prison Service and to underline the issues of governance, culture, size, working practices and many more that need to undergo radical change. Clearly, there are a number of recommendations, such as those proposing the introduction of statutory time limits or a presumption against custody, on which I would need to consult further. Implementing those recommendations would require legislation and so go beyond my powers as Minister. On those, I will come back to the Justice Committee and the Assembly for further consideration on the way forward.

However, I share the opinion of the review team that the broad sweep of the path ahead is absolutely clear. The challenge for us now is to follow it and to make progress as a matter of urgency. That is why, although individual recommendations may be subject to further consultation, I do not propose to initiate a period of public consultation on the report itself. Further delay would be damaging to the need for urgent action, or, as Conall McDevitt referred to it, “fierce urgency”.

The report also makes clear that there is an implementation role for wider government and that reducing offending should be a shared responsibility across the Executive. I agree with that view, and I look forward to working closely with colleagues in the coming months. However, given that the majority of recommendations are not cross-cutting in nature but fall exclusively within the remit of my Department — whether NIPS or the Department as a whole — there is no need under the ministerial code for me to agree with the Executive a way forward on the implementation of those recommendations. That is why I must oppose amendment No 1.

I take the Prison Review Team report extremely seriously. I want to make it clear to the Assembly that work to implement the report is already under way. For example, arrangements are in place already for the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust to work in partnership with NIPS on the nine recommendations relating to healthcare, where it has shared responsibility. Last week, we launched the staff exit scheme, which will allow a significant number of staff to leave with dignity and to pave the way for the Prison Service to be not only right-sized but refreshed.

The scheme marks a pivotal moment in the programme of reform for the Prison Service, allowing the pace of change to quicken and ushering in further critical changes over the coming months. The focus of NIPS is already visibly changing from a service that is centred around security to one that has at its heart the rehabilitation of offenders. As the report recommends, NIPS has already changed its corporate structure to establish a directorate that is wholly focused on offender services.

I turn to the amendment that was tabled by Alban Maginness and his colleagues. I welcome the SDLP Members’ acknowledgement of the urgency of reform, and I commend their eagerness to press ahead with implementing the changes that have been recommended. I share that sense of urgency, and I am committed to doing all in my power to drive forward the reforms.

As I said before, change on this scale will not happen overnight, nor, if it is to be truly effective and lasting, will it be completed within the next 12 months. Indeed, reference has already been made to the length of time taken for the PSNI reforms.

The SEE programme, through which NIPS will deliver change, is a four-year programme. Through each year of that programme, the process of change, with all its complex interdependencies, has already been mapped out. In this, the first year, the focus is on preparing for structural changes and laying the foundations on which further reforms of structures, working practices and culture will be built.

We cannot afford to lose the momentum of change. Indeed, I believe that over the next six months, we will see the pace of change quicken significantly. Nonetheless, it is important that the process is done right and is done thoroughly. The reforms envisaged by the review team simply could not be implemented within 12 months, and that is why I cannot accept the amendment, although I entirely agree with the thinking behind it.

Again, I reassure Members that work is under way, with many recommendations already incorporated into the detailed implementation plan for the SEE programme or included in ongoing reforms of the wider justice system. Of the 40 recommendations that the review team made, 28 fall exclusively to my Department to take forward. Of those, one has already been achieved, and work has commenced or is well-advanced on 20 more.

As the review team said, the next six months will be crucial, and I anticipate that by the end of that time, a further nine recommendations will be fully implemented, with a number of others expected to follow. In the light of that, I hope that the SDLP Members will not press their amendment.

Underpinning the recommendations of the report is the issue of proper and robust oversight. We cannot afford to allow the review to result in a report but no progress, as is said to have happened before. That is why I have already tasked officials with developing an oversight mechanism. I will personally take the chair for examining that mechanism, and I will involve others from outside with independent representatives or NIPS non-executive directors. I have already met the chief inspector about the role that CJINI needs to play in supporting those arrangements, and he is fully committed to be a part of, and inform, the oversight process.

In relation to recommendation 9, which puts forward proposals for random reviews of SPAR documentation, I have already had discussions with the chief inspector and the Prisoner Ombudsman to ensure that ongoing arrangements to implement that recommendation are put in place as quickly and effectively as possible. To that effect, the Prisoner Ombudsman and chief inspector have agreed that CJINI, which has an established role of providing quality assurance across the justice system, is best placed to carry out those reviews, which will be informed by the Prisoner Ombudsman’s own analyses of SPAR documentation. I welcome the review team’s emphasis on the importance of oversight. The new oversight mechanism will reinforce the complex network of scrutiny bodies that is already in place and to which NIPS is already subject.

As I noted, the challenge of reducing offending goes much wider than my Department, and is the shared responsibility of the entire Executive. I welcome Dame Anne’s recommendations that these important cross-cutting reforms should be overseen at the highest level, and I will consider further with my Executive colleagues the best way to take that forward.

Members highlighted a number of points in the report. Reference was made to the issue of fine defaults. I assure Jennifer McCann that plans are well under way on the community based alternative to fine default; supervised activity orders. Stewart Dickson talked about vulnerable prisoners and Alban Maginness talked about the need for learning and skills. I remind them that last week I opened the Donard day centre and the learning and skills centre at Maghaberry with the full support of the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust and the Minister for Employment and Learning. I entirely accept the point that Alban Maginness made about the need to bring the standards at Hydebank Wood up to those now in operation at Maghaberry.

Jennifer McCann highlighted the issue of women offenders, where there is clearly a significant issue of dealing with the estate and the difficulties of working with Ash House in Hydebank Wood, although we should also take note that the report highlighted constructive and innovative work being done with women offenders, for example in the Inspire project. Peter Weir spoke about the issue of removing under-18s from Hydebank Wood. In the past 12 months, 12 young people were moved from Hydebank Wood to Woodlands as a result of case conferencing and examination of their best needs. So, only eight remain at this stage. Those are signs of small change and of the fact that we are moving in the right direction.

Several Members mentioned the exit scheme for prison staff. I repeat to Sydney Anderson that I believe that the scheme is devised in a way that will allow those who wish to leave to do so with dignity. Indeed, the union representatives have reflected that. I restate to Basil McCrea that the scheme is not to be compulsory; it is a voluntary scheme. In answer to Peter Weir’s concerns about denuding the service, I should say that, if we are looking for something like 500 out of 1,800 staff to leave, many with experience will remain.

Basil McCrea also highlighted the importance of having a dedicated change management team. Unfortunately, that has been delayed by some of the appointment processes, but it is well under way at this stage and will play a key part in ensuring that the change can happen. I acknowledge the issue that existing staff have with the working responsibilities and the need for that additional team of four people to deal with it.

Jim Allister referred to some extent to symbols and titles as they apply to the Prison Service. Those are operational issues for the Prison Service, but I believe that, if NIPS is serious about fundamental and end-to-end structural and cultural reform, it cannot fail to consider the symbols and emblems that are visible signs of the organisation’s culture and focus. That is one of a range of operational issues that I will be expecting NIPS to consider as part of the change process over the coming months. NIPS has to deliver a transformation of its culture, and it cannot move forward unless it addresses those sorts of issues along with others relating to staffing and estates and so on.

Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice 6:15, 14 November 2011

So that we are absolutely clear, is the Minister saying that he anticipates an end to our prisons being called “Her Majesty’s prisons” and that he anticipates an end to the Crown being part of the symbol of the Prison Service? Will he be clear on that? If he is saying those things, I want to tell him that there are many in the unionist community who will be appalled at the direction in which he is taking us.

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

I think that it is a pity that we are getting hung up on symbols. It is the only issue that anybody has wanted to intervene on during my speech this afternoon. I said that we are looking at a process of fundamental and end-to-end reform. That will affect every part of the working of the Prison Service and its culture. In those circumstances, although these issues are operational matters for the Prison Service, it has to consider them as it looks for the appropriate way to run in the years ahead.

Photo of Basil McCrea Basil McCrea UUP

I think that that is a debate for another day, but I am not sure that you can say that the symbols are an operational matter. How do they affect operations? They are a symbolic and strategic matter, so I put on record that I think that you need to think again about that.

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

I am not aware of Ministers having chosen uniforms, for example, in the past. However, it is an issue that, as Basil McCrea said, I am likely to face further questioning on in this Assembly or elsewhere.

I repeat that I believe that this has been a useful debate and has given us an opportunity to highlight the crucial issue of the future of the Prison Service. I am grateful for the interest raised across the House, and I thank those Members who raised issues looking at the work that my Department, the South Eastern Trust and other Departments have to do to ensure that we implement the reforms that are so well highlighted in the report as necessary. That will give us the opportunity to transform NIPS into the organisation that we require for the future, which is one that makes society safer by reducing reoffending and, ultimately, offering enhanced protection and peace of mind for our families, friends and constituents and for the whole of this society.

Photo of Colum Eastwood Colum Eastwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

I begin by congratulating Mr Lynch and his colleagues for bringing forward this very important and timely motion. I agree with him that we need a new beginning for the Prison Service. We need root-and-branch change; incremental improvements are not enough. We need decisive leadership, and we have already had too many reports.

Unfortunately, Mr Givan suggests that our prisons are some sort of holiday camps. I ask him to confer with some people who are in Maghaberry now or have been there any time recently, because they might disagree with him.

Mr Maginness talked about the Owers report being a culmination of many other reports and said that we have had enough reports at this stage.

He said that the members of the Owers review team have a huge amount of experience and mentioned the urgent need for reform. He also said that the essence of the report is to ensure that there is a balanced approach to prisons; that we need a deterrent; and that we also need the opportunity for rehabilitation of those who are open to it. He stressed the urgency of the report’s implementation and agreed with others that Hydebank should be completely reformed because it has had very little success in rehabilitating our young people.

Mr McCrea said that we needed to convince the public of the merits of change. My clear argument is that the current system does not have public support; certainly not in my community. I was glad to hear Mr Dickson mention the need to have a balanced approach between punishment and rehabilitation. He highlighted that there are serious mental health issues in our prisons and that suicide is a real concern. He also agreed that there was a need for urgency.

Mr Weir talked about the need for change, and then proceeded to unpick the report as he went on. I argue that we have had enough reports and discussion, and that it is now time for change. I agreed with Jennifer McCann when she said that the DUP amendment was a delaying tactic. The fact is that time is of the essence. She is right to say that women’s prisons and young offenders’ centres are a huge issue in the report and that needs to be addressed. I agree that all the statistics, no matter how they are sliced, will tell you that if you introduce young people and children to the judicial system very early on without the support that they require, they will only graduate through that system and end up in places such as Magilligan and Maghaberry.

I am glad to hear that Mr Anderson is not opposed to change. I agree that the reform of the prison system is on a par with the reform of policing in this part of the world. Thankfully, we got that right. What we now have, Mr Anderson, is people from my community risking their lives every day to serve the people of the North of Ireland. I, for one, think that is a very positive step forward. It may be useful if you could recognise the risk that people are taking to do that.

Mr McCallister said nothing that I could agree or disagree with, because he said absolutely nothing. Mr McDevitt is right to say that the system is not fit for purpose, and that the real change needs to be in people’s mindset. It was interesting to hear Lord Morrow state that he does not care how many reports come out. He said that we just do not “get it”. In fact, he does not “get it”. The fact that anybody in the House could refuse to accept the findings of over 20 reports proves who does not “get it”, and on which side of the House they are.

I agreed with Mr Allister when he said that prison needs to be about punishment first, but if we fail to rehabilitate young people and people going through the judicial and prison systems, the only people we really punish are the communities that they go back into and reoffend in. I am glad that Minister Ford supports the need for reform; in fact, he was emphatic about that. I request that he works towards that more urgently, but I accept his bona fides. In that regard, we will not push for a division on our amendment.

The bottom line is that the prisons —

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP 6:30, 14 November 2011

Bring your remarks to a close, please.

Photo of Colum Eastwood Colum Eastwood Social Democratic and Labour Party

The prisons in this part of the world cultivate an environment that fails our society and does nothing to end the cycle of reoffending.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Your time is up.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

It is normal on these occasions to summarise the points made about one’s amendment, but unfortunately, at the very end of Mr Ford’s speech, he dropped a bit of a bombshell. I make it absolutely clear to him that this party will oppose totally and emphatically any attempt to change the name of Her Majesty’s Prisons; any attempt to drop the crown from the badge of the Northern Ireland Prison Service; and any attempt to drop the phrase “Northern Ireland” from the Prison Service name. Those changes are totally unacceptable to the Unionist community of Northern Ireland. If that is the route that he is going down, we promise him a long and difficult fight ahead. These issues are not issues —

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

I appreciate the Member giving way. Does the Member agree that the flippant manner in which the Minister dealt with this issue only when interventions were made, and his cavalier approach in throwing this out at the tail end of a speech, will cause outrage among the community that we represent? Twenty-nine officers lost their lives. You may go to Millisle and attend the remembrance service there, but you undid all of that today by raising an issue that Dame Anne Owers did not even mention in her report: that you will attempt to strip the Prison Service of its title and badge. You do a disservice to the office that you hold. You need to think seriously about what you have said and take it off the table before you cause any further hurt to the people who have served, and currently serve, in the Prison Service.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

Needless to say —

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

I appreciate the Member giving way. It is clearly an issue that is causing a degree of concern. I do not believe that I was flippant. Mr Allister raised the issue in the last contribution that was made before my speech. I responded to that in as honest a way as I could given the nature of the issue, the manner in which it has to be carried through and the responsibilities of the Prison Service. That is why the issue was raised by me in the way that it was; it was not intended to cause any offence.

When I attended a memorial service at Millisle last Friday, it was, as it was last year, to entirely genuinely recognise the sacrifice that I have referred to and the service of those who have been in the Prison Service in different difficult times. Whether or not we are worried about that, how we recognise that does not alter the fact that the Prison Service is engaged in a process of fundamental end-to-end reform.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

The question that I have to ask the Minister is: had it not come in the form of an interjection, would he have revealed to anyone in the Chamber that he is going to make such a fundamental change to the symbolism of the Northern Ireland Prison Service? It came out as an aside. That is absolutely no way to treat this House, or to treat the brave members of the Prison Service, of whom 29 laid down their life, hundreds have been injured, and many have had to move home. They did not do all that so that the crown could be dropped from the Prison Service badge and its name changed at the behest of the nationalist community. These are brave people, and the Prison Service’s name and tradition have to be recognised. The point that I would make is that nobody raised this as an issue. Until today, no one raised the issue of the symbolism of the name of the Prison Service. [Interruption.]

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Order. The Member will resume his seat. I remind Members that remarks must be made through the Chair. We want to run a very tight regime in here. Continue.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

I make the point that nobody has raised these issues. There has been no indication that there is any problem with recruitment to the Prison Service because of the symbolism. Therefore, to suddenly bring this like a rabbit out of a hat at 6.40 pm, at the end of this debate, is, in my opinion, disgraceful. What I would like to ask the Minister, for whom I have a lot of respect, is whether he can give us a guarantee that there will be no such change unless it is approved by the Executive and by a cross-community vote in this House. That is how fundamental these changes are. I am giving him the opportunity to give us an assurance that there will be no attempt to push this through as an administrative or operational decision and that it will be the subject of debate in this House, so that we Members, who represent the people of Northern Ireland, will have an opportunity to vote on that. I am waiting for his view on that.

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

It appears that the Member is giving way, Mr Deputy Speaker. Operational decisions will be taken by the Northern Ireland Prison Service. Ministerial decisions will be taken by me. Cross-cutting decisions will be taken by the Executive.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

Well, then the question I have to ask the Minister is: is this a cross-cutting decision? I believe it is. I believe it is also a controversial decision that can be put before the Executive or this Assembly. There is absolutely no way that this is going to be slipped through as an administrative or operational decision, without the people of Northern Ireland having an opportunity to have their say on it. If this goes ahead, it will be deeply hurtful to the people of Northern Ireland. It is unnecessary, it is unwarranted, it is an expense, and it will not change by one iota how any individual prisoner will be treated in any prison.

I had, Mr Deputy Speaker, settled myself down to a rather boring and mundane résumé of what was said. Howver, quite clearly, the difference is that we have those who have been inmates of the Prison Service, who have considerable experience and, therefore, a jaundiced view of what the Prison Service provides, and those on this side of the House who pay tribute to the Prison Service for what it has done for this community under terribly difficult conditions.

We have also a difference of view with the SDLP, which does not trust the people of Northern Ireland and does not want them to be consulted about those far-reaching decisions. If we were convinced that there was a need for consultation before Mr Ford’s statement, we are absolutely certain that there has to be consultation now, given the import of what he has just said —

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Bring your remarks to a close, please.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

Therefore, this cannot be allowed to go through without the public having a view —

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

Your time is up.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

— and the public’s view is that we reject these changes.

Photo of Raymond McCartney Raymond McCartney Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Beidh mé ag labhairt i dtacaíocht an mholta seo agus in éadan an leasaithe. Ba mhaith liom mo chuid buíochais a thabhairt do gach aon duine a labhair sa díospóireacht inniu.

I will be speaking for the motion and against the DUP amendment. I accept the spirit of the SDLP amendment and its decision not to divide the House.

I want to put the Anne Owers report into context. During debates in the Assembly, people sometimes forget where things originated. The report came out of the Hillsborough Castle Agreement, where it was decided that there would be a review of prisons. Again — I have said this many times in the House — I heard no dissenting voices; I did not hear anyone say that there should not be a review of prisons, so I accept that everybody accepted that.

I listened intently to the debate on amendment No. 1 and the reasons why there should be public consultation. During one Committee meeting, Alban Maginness referred to treading in treacle, and Anne Owers said that that was one of the observations that she made about the decision-making and reports in the past. She said that there was the ability for people to turn it into a treading treacle operation.

When the Anne Owers team came to give its first presentation on the interim report to the Committee, I did not hear any member say that it should go out for public consultation. We are seeing the retrospective argument today. People do not want to face the reality that there should be a fundamental review. This is a comprehensive insight, and I do not think that anybody denies that it is. I even heard people questioning Anne Owers’s team today. Again, I did not hear any objections to any members of the team. As a result of the Hillsborough Castle Agreement, there was an agreement to have a review of youth justice provision. People felt that there was a conflict of interest with one of the members of that team. Those observations were made, and that person was not removed from the team but asked to step down and become part of the secretariat. Therefore, if anybody had any objections about the people on the team, there was room for change, but there were no objections. I do not think that we can now question the validity or the integrity of the people involved.

Importantly, the report points us in the direction of where progress can be made. I have heard a number of debates in the Assembly about the Criminal Justice Inspection report on prisons, and most people accepted that there was a need for those recommendations to be implemented. Anne Owers and her team said very clearly that this was not an investigation and that it was not some sort of inspection. Instead, it provides us with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring our prisons into the 21st century, and most people accept that that is what we should be doing. We should have a prison service that is fit for the 21st century, and this gives us the opportunity to have that.

People have talked about why we tabled today’s motion. Mr Anderson questioned the validity of Seán Lynch, Jennifer McCann and me, as former political prisoners, tabling the motion, and he is entitled to do that. About two minutes later, he went on to quote Napoleon Bonaparte as a person whose opinion would stand you in good stead. My recollection is that Napoleon Bonaparte was also a prisoner, and I would even call him a political prisoner. It might be a good idea for him to quote me, Seán and Jennifer more, instead of Napoleon Bonaparte.

In her interim report, Anne Owers predicted what would happen, and we have seen it today in small measure. She predicted that there would be a culture of denial and that there could be a situation in which people would not sit down, look at the report in its broadest terms and ensure that it is taken forward in the spirit in which it was presented. She came to our Committee on a number of occasions, and I think we had a fairly reasonable, straightforward debate. It is only now that we are starting to see what I would contend are excuses to try to halt the progress.

The DUP amendment calls on the Minister to:

“work with the Executive to agree a way forward.”

Not one of the DUP’s Members gave any reason today why that should be the case. I thought that an explanation of the role that the Executive should have in taking the report forward would have formed a very important part of their argument, but we did not get that. In many ways, most of the Members who spoke from the DUP Benches did not go into the report. They had their own pet subjects, which ranged from whether people in prison should get PlayStations to what colour of uniform prison staff should wear. If that is the level of debate as we take this forward, God help us.

What became clear throughout the report and from the presentations by Anne Owers’s team was the need for change. The need for change is overwhelming and accepted. Now, we are going to see the challenge, and that challenge faces the Minister, the Department and the senior management of the prison administration. That is why our motion states clearly that we want to ensure that the recommendations are implemented. I think people will accept that we are not expecting all of the recommendations to be implemented in full next week, next year or in the next 10 years, but there is a process that has to ensure that the heart of the recommendations are implemented.

People want to make comparisons with Patten and the reform of policing. I am not going to do that today. I am not going to list all the faults that are in our prison system; they are there and they are itemised. I will make one comparison with Patten however. It is important for the Minister and his senior team to understand that whatever the success of Patten, it was a fact that there was an implementation plan and clear oversight mechanisms. Therefore, whatever progress was going to be made, we were going to see it. It is the same with the Prison Service; it has to be transparent and out in the open. That is why I welcome the Minister’s acknowledgement today that he will chair an oversight committee.

Anne Owers’s interim report had five headline recommendations, one of which was key: implementation and oversight. From my perspective, two of her most important recommendations were recommendations 22 and 23. I am not saying that the other recommendations relate to operational matters, but they do relate to how our Prison Service will operate. There are issues around the use of the prison estate, the siting of prisons, the type of people who should be in prison and where prisoners should be housed. There are also issues around training, recruitment and exit packages. Crucial to that, and I want to make this point in conclusion, is a sense that the people who want this to become like treading in treacle and who want to remain in the culture of denial and of burying their heads in the sand, rather than confronting the issues that face us, will be given protection and a place to hide if there is not proper oversight and an implementation plan.

Sinn Féin will judge the report, the work of the SEE programme and the work of the Prison Service and the Department on those outcomes. We want openness and transparency, an implementation plan and good oversight so that after six months, 12 months, two years, three years, four years and five years we can sit back and say, “Here is what we agreed to do, and here is where we are.” Therefore, if things run awry every now and again, as they can — it is part of the human condition — there is, at least, an explanation. However, we will not allow the report to join the list of reports that have been put on the shelf and which were allowed to be run into the sand by people who were part of a culture of denial or of not wanting to tackle the issues.

Today, we will stand in opposition to the DUP amendment. We welcome very much the fact that the SDLP will not divide the House.

We agree with the tone of the SDLP’s amendment, as it calls for, if you like, a good implementation of the report that is well projected and well signposted. Our motion argues clearly that the report is a comprehensive piece of work and that it should be acknowledged as such. The report was asked for, it was delivered through the Hillsborough agreement, and, as I said in my opening remarks, no one spoke in opposition to the need for a prison review. That is why we tabled and will support the motion.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP 6:45, 14 November 2011

Before I put the Question on amendment No 1, I advise Members that, if this amendment is made, I will not put the Question on amendment No 2, as the wording of the original motion will have changed to such an extent that it would not be in order for the House to vote on amendment No 2.

Question put, That amendment No1 be made.

The Assembly divided: Ayes 39; Noes 45


Mr Allister, Mr S Anderson, Mr Bell, Ms P Bradley, Mr Campbell, Mr T Clarke, Mr Craig, Mrs Dobson, Mr Douglas, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mr Elliott, Mrs Foster, Mr Frew, Mr Givan, Mrs Hale, Mr Hamilton, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mr Kinahan, Ms Lewis, Mr McCallister, Mr McCausland, Mr B McCrea, Mr I McCrea, Miss M McIlveen, Mr McQuillan, Lord Morrow, Mr Moutray, Mr Newton, Mrs Overend, Mr Poots, Mr Ross, Mr Spratt, Mr Storey, Mr Swann, Mr Weir, Mr Wells.

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr S Anderson and Mr McQuillan.


Mr Agnew, Ms M Anderson, Mr Attwood, Mr Boylan, Ms Boyle, Mr D Bradley, Mr Brady, Mr Byrne, Mr W Clarke, Mrs Cochrane, Mr Dickson, Mr Doherty, Mr Durkan, Mr Eastwood, Dr Farry, Mr Flanagan, Mr Ford, Ms Gildernew, Mrs D Kelly, Mr G Kelly, Ms Lo, Mr Lunn, Mr Lynch, Mr Lyttle, Mr F McCann, Ms J McCann, Mr McCarthy, Mr McCartney, Mr McDevitt, Dr McDonnell, Mr McElduff, Mr McGlone, Mrs McKevitt, Mr McMullan, Mr A Maginness, Mr A Maskey, Mr P Maskey, Mr Murphy, Mr Ó hOisín, Mr O’Dowd, Mr P Ramsey, Ms S Ramsey, Ms Ritchie, Ms Ruane, Mr Sheehan.

Tellers for the Noes: Mr Lynch and Mr McMullan.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That amendment No 2 be made, put and negatived.

Main Question put.

The Assembly divided: Ayes 45; Noes 39.


Mr Agnew, Ms M Anderson, Mr Attwood, Mr Boylan, Ms Boyle, Mr D Bradley, Mr Brady, Mr Byrne, Mr W Clarke, Mrs Cochrane, Mr Dickson, Mr Doherty, Mr Durkan, Mr Eastwood, Dr Farry, Mr Flanagan, Mr Ford, Ms Gildernew, Mrs D Kelly, Mr G Kelly, Ms Lo, Mr Lunn, Mr Lynch, Mr Lyttle, Mr F McCann, Ms J McCann, Mr McCarthy, Mr McCartney, Mr McDevitt, Dr McDonnell, Mr McElduff, Mr McGlone, Mrs McKevitt, Mr McMullan, Mr A Maginness, Mr A Maskey, Mr P Maskey, Mr Murphy, Mr Ó hOisín, Mr O’Dowd, Mr P Ramsey, Ms S Ramsey, Ms Ritchie, Ms Ruane, Mr Sheehan.

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr Lynch and Mr McMullan.


Mr Allister, Mr S Anderson, Mr Bell, Ms P Bradley, Mr Campbell, Mr T Clarke, Mr Craig, Mrs Dobson, Mr Douglas, Mr Dunne, Mr Easton, Mr Elliott, Mrs Foster, Mr Frew, Mr Givan, Mrs Hale, Mr Hamilton, Mr Hilditch, Mr Humphrey, Mr Irwin, Mr Kinahan, Ms Lewis, Mr McCallister, Mr McCausland, Mr B McCrea, Mr I McCrea, Miss M McIlveen, Mr McQuillan, Lord Morrow, Mr Moutray, Mr Newton, Mrs Overend, Mr Poots, Mr Ross, Mr Spratt, Mr Storey, Mr Swann, Mr Weir, Mr Wells.

Tellers for the Noes: Mr S Anderson and Mr McQuillan.

Main Question accordingly agreed to.


That this Assembly welcomes the final report of the prison review team; and calls on the Minister of Justice to initiate a plan to ensure that the report’s recommendations are implemented and that progress is monitored; and further calls on the Minister to ensure that the appropriate scrutiny and accountability mechanisms are in place.

Adjourned at 7.14 pm.