Prison Officer Numbers: Maghaberry

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 22nd February 2016.

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Photo of Thomas Buchanan Thomas Buchanan DUP 2:30 pm, 22nd February 2016

T7. Mr Buchanan asked the Minister of Justice whether he is satisfied with the prison officer to prisoner ratio in Maghaberry prison. (AQT 3527/11-16)

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance

At present, there is clearly a reduced number of prison officers, which is why one of the key issues that are being focused on by the governor and the senior management team is sickness absence to ensure that, when possible, officers are at work. A recruitment exercise is being carried out. We need to be careful that we do not automatically assume that the prison supervision ratios that applied some years ago are necessarily appropriate. Reference to ratios of one prison officer to so many prisoners in particular areas does not represent the reality of the different threat levels in different parts of Maghaberry and different kinds of prisoners in different parts of the prison. The issue is at this stage is to ensure that there are appropriate but not excessive levels of supervision in every area, ensuring that the most difficult areas receive significantly higher supervision levels.

Photo of Mitchel McLaughlin Mitchel McLaughlin Speaker

I call Mr Buchanan for a quick supplementary question.

Photo of Thomas Buchanan Thomas Buchanan DUP

Does the Minister agree that the lack of prison officers is the reason for so many being off as a result of injuries received while on duty?

Photo of David Ford David Ford Alliance 2:45 pm, 22nd February 2016

No. I do not agree that that is the position. In recent months, a cultural shift has led to many more officers being on duty and ensured that prisoners are being managed better, in a way that reduces tension and is less likely to lead to injury to officers or other prisoners.