Push for new NI prison officers

 

A recruitment campaign for new prison officers was launched today.

Up to 200 custody officers will be enlisted alongside a major redundancy scheme in an effort to bring in fresh faces following calls for reform. Catholics and women are particularly encouraged to apply.

Prison Service director general Colin McConnell said it was a milestone.

“The case for fundamental reform of the Northern Ireland Prison Service has been made in successive reports and the challenge to deliver those reforms has been accepted by management and Justice Minister David Ford,” he said.

“Refreshing the workforce is a central part of the reform agenda and with staff leaving through the current exit scheme, it provides the opportunity to introduce new recruits into the Prison Service.”

Nationalists have called for a Patten-style overhaul of the service to encourage more Catholics to join. During the troubles many prison warders were Protestants and the service was focused on dealing with paramilitaries.

A total of 371 staff have so far applied for the enhanced payouts which are part of a major overhaul of the prison service aimed at modernising and streamlining Northern Ireland’s jails.

Stormont Justice Committee members raised questions when they were told there was nothing to prevent the same staff applying to rejoin the service. The deadline for redundancy applications is this week.

The prison service, shaped by the decades of violence, has long been accused of falling short of the needs of the 21st century and the staff shake-up has been billed as a key element of the process of reform.

Mr McConnell, drafted in from Britain to oversee the transformation following a series of critical reports into work practices at Northern Ireland’s jails, said new custody officers on up to £23,000 a year will maintain a safe, decent and secure environment, ensuring daily routines operate smoothly and effectively.

Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland has reported extensively on impoverished regimes in prison in the past. Working practices were designed to suit staff and the dominant security ethos impacted negatively on many commendable efforts to resettle inmates, a report from last October said.

Mr McConnell said the service was there to improve public safety by reducing the risk of reoffending through the management and rehabilitation of offenders.

It is envisaged that the new custody officers will join the Service later in the year and within two years of taking up post, will be expected to obtain a certificate of competence qualification.

The director general added: “Building a skilled, trained and professional workforce, committed to the vision of the new Northern Ireland Prison Service, is critical if we are to deliver the necessary fundamental reforms.

“This recruitment campaign, sitting alongside the training package for those prison officers remaining in the Service, is a key milestone in building a modern prison service.”

When the scheme was unveiled, officials said an individual prison officer with 40 years of service, on a salary of £37,000, could receive as much as £120,250, plus an annual pension of £18,500.

Justice Minister David Ford said at the time that the scheme struck the correct balance between delivering reform and recognising the service of prison staff who saw 29 of their colleagues killed during the Troubles.

The total number of 1,800 uniformed prison staff will fall as the exit scheme and recruitment drives balance out.

Government has claimed this will contribute towards a saving of £180 million over the next 10 years.

PA