Prison Officer Safety: HMP Maghaberry

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 22nd February 2016.

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Photo of Thomas Buchanan Thomas Buchanan DUP 2:15 pm, 22nd February 2016

6. Mr Buchanan asked the Minister of Justice how he is improving the safety of prison officers at HMP Maghaberry. (AQO 9673/11-16)

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

The Prison Service continues to maintain a clear focus on the safety of staff. The Maghaberry senior management team has been refreshed and strengthened, and unit managers are now based in the residential areas to provide visible leadership and support for staff. Staff training and the rotation of staff working in the more stressful areas is ongoing. The introduction of a new core day for prisoners, with more appropriate mealtimes and longer periods outside residential units, reduces prisoner frustration and provides a safer environment for all. Other measures put in place with regard to safety are the visible patrolling of prisoner recreation areas by staff and the piloting of body-worn cameras. The use of these cameras by staff has clearly led to a lessening in verbal abuse and a reduction in aggression directed at officers. The safety of staff and prisoners remains under constant review.

Photo of Thomas Buchanan Thomas Buchanan DUP

I thank the Minister for his response. Will he advise how many officers are currently off work due to injury on duty and what support services are offered to them?

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

I cannot give the immediate stats for the numbers who are off work today for injury on duty, but there are solid arrangements in place to provide support for officers, including counselling services and line managers keeping in touch and offering assistance in dealing with sickness issues. All of that is carried out in connection with the general processes outlined in the Civil Service handbook but recognising that prison officers are in a particularly difficult place compared with many civil servants. That support has shown that the number who are off on sick can be reduced, as has happened in recent months, and that is good for all concerned.

Photo of Adrian Cochrane-Watson Adrian Cochrane-Watson UUP

I thank the Minister for his answers so far. Minister, do you have any plans to meet, or have you met, the Prison Officers' Association on these issues?

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

As I said at, I think, my last Question Time, I have not had a recent specific meeting on these issues with the Prison Officers' Association, but I meet it whenever I am requested to do so.