Question Time – Justice – Tuesday 17 November 2015

Oral Questions to the Justice Minister began with questions from Mr Lynch MLA, Mr Allister MLA and Mc D McIlveen asking the Minister to outline how his Department plans to address the findings of the recent published Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland’s inspection report on an unannounced inspection of Maghaberry prison 11-22 May 2015. The Minister confirmed that

“Maghaberry is a challenging and complex high-security prison and this report demonstrates that. The progress that the prison made in 2012 continued through to 2014 against a backdrop of experienced staff leaving under the voluntary exit scheme and new staff coming in. The prison has faced three key challenges: resourcing, building a consistent regime and delivering outcomes for prisoners.

The report from the visit in May demonstrated that Maghaberry had been greatly affected by staff absence, which had had a serious impact on the regime and outcomes for prisoners. This has been addressed through robust management of attendance, recruitment and redeployment from other prisons. Since August, sickness levels have fallen sharply, which means more officers on the landings and a more progressive regime.

It is important to reinforce that the context in which Maghaberry operates is not the same as that for any prison in neighbouring jurisdictions. Prison officers are under severe threat, which means that an attack is highly likely. NIPS has effective mechanisms in place to disseminate information relating to threats, and staff are fully supported when security concerns are raised. Any threats to others, including contractors, are a matter for the PSNI, and there are arrangements in place to share information in that respect. In that context, I am very encouraged that over 1,700 people applied in the recent Prison Service recruitment campaign. Those individuals have an opportunity to play their part in building a safer community”.

The Minister was also asked to outline the average time taken to process an Access NI check in each of the last three years and to outline the impact that youth engagement clinics are having on young people’s experience of the justice system.