Official Report: Minutes of Evidence

Committee for Justice , meeting on Thursday, 8 October 2015

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr A Ross (Chairperson)
Mr Raymond McCartney (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Stewart Dickson
Mr S Douglas
Mr Paul Frew
Mr Seán Lynch
Ms B McGahan
Mr Patsy McGlone
Mr A Maginness
Mr Edwin Poots
Mr N Somerville


Mr Mark Adam, Northern Ireland Prison Service
Ms Sue McAllister, Northern Ireland Prison Service
Mr Brian McCaughey, Northern Ireland Prison Service
Mr Phil Wragg, Northern Ireland Prison Service

Prison Reform Programme: Northern Ireland Prison Service

The Chairperson (Mr Ross): I welcome Sue McAllister, Mark Adam, Brian McCaughey and Phil Wragg to the Committee. I remind you that the session is being recorded by Hansard, and the report will be on the Committee website in due course. Sue, you may make your opening comments when you are ready, and we will open up to questions afterwards.

Ms Sue McAllister (Northern Ireland Prison Service): Thank you for your welcome. We are very grateful for the opportunity to brief you today.

I will begin by outlining the progress that has been made on prison reform. Of the 40 recommendations made by the prison review team, 33 have been signed off by the oversight group, which is chaired by the Minister. The oversight group has also referred an additional two recommendations to the Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJINI) for independent assessment. That means that 35 of the 40 recommendations have been signed off or are under assessment. Work continues to deliver three recommendations, which will be considered for sign-off by the group in November.

The oversight group accepts that two recommendations will fall outside the lifespan of the reform programme; however, it is important to say that good progress continues to be made on these two complex recommendations. Regarding recommendation 3, which is on effective community sentences, work is ongoing with the Lord Chief Justice to consider alternatives to custody without the need for legislative change.

This has seen the launch of the enhanced combination order last week.

Significant progress has also been made against recommendation 13, regarding the joint health and justice strategy, and we will continue to work with colleagues from the Department of Health on this.

While we have made significant progress against the 40 recommendations, we understand that this work has been about much more than simply ticking off a list of recommendations. It is about embedding reform for the next five, 10 and 15 years. This has been the biggest reform programme in the public sector in the last 15 years, and has delivered not only end-to-end transformational change, but also value for the public. In 2011, when reform began, our cost-per-prisoner-place was just over £71,000. Last year, it was just over £58,000. We understand that further pressures will come next year, and we will meet that with the same innovative approach to ensure that we have safe, secure and decent prisons that continue to deliver value for money for the people of Northern Ireland.

While delivering an effective and efficient prison system will always have challenges, I believe that the reforms delivered have placed the Prison Service on a secure footing for years to come. As we near the end of the formal reform programme, I want to emphasise to the Committee that the Prison Service will not stand still. While the structures around the reform programme will come to a close in the coming months, this does not mean the end of change.

From the reform programme, four key strategic themes have emerged, on which the prison system will continue to focus. These are leadership, purposeful activity, partnership with health care and a fit-for-purpose prison estate. We recognise that prison leadership is particularly challenging, and a lot of responsibility rests on the shoulders of governors and senior managers. Therefore, we have put a leadership development programme in place for our top 50 leaders that reflects this, covering essential skills and building leadership capability. This T50 programme is being rolled out now and will include staff exchanges and interchange, self-assessment, succession planning and mentoring. We are also continuing internal recruitment to bring through the best talent and identify our leaders of the future.

Purposeful activity is key to ensuring that prisons can be places of positive, constructive change for people in custody. Prisoners are now assessed in terms of their risks, needs and strengths and have a personal development plan for the duration of their sentence. Going forward, every prisoner's engagement in purposeful activity should be guided by their individual plan, whether it is by attending learning and skills, vocational training or an internal prison work placement, or through behaviour change programmes and therapeutic interventions. They will also engage in employment and interview skills training, placements and working out in the community. Research shows that prisoners who are supported and find employment on release are much less likely to reoffend.

As the Committee is aware, provision of healthcare in prisons is a complex issue. While this is the responsibility of the South Eastern Trust, we will continue to work with it and our colleagues in DHSSPS to develop the joint strategy. This is key to delivering an effective service in the prisons.

Work also continues to progress the prison estate, with plans in place for the reconfiguration of Maghaberry, the redevelopment of Magilligan and the construction of a new custodial facility for women. Our new women's step-down facility is now ready and will open later this month. While much of the plans is dependent on finance, I am hopeful that they can be realised to create a safe, modern and lasting prison estate.

On Maghaberry, I would also like to take this opportunity to update the Committee on developments at Maghaberry since our last appearance on prisons in March. I would like to introduce you to Phil Wragg, who was appointed as director of offender policy and operations in August, after Paul Cawkwell's two-year secondment had been completed. As I will explain, in recognition of the challenges that I identified at Maghaberry, Phil will also initially govern the prison.

As outlined by the Minister in the Assembly, the upcoming Criminal Justice Inspection report on Maghaberry raises significant issues. This follows its unannounced inspection in May, which gave a snapshot of how the prison was performing at that time. As members will appreciate, it would not be appropriate for me to go into the detail of that report, as publication is a matter for CJINI and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP). Just as we did not get complacent following the positive inspection report published earlier this year on Magilligan, we will not try to gloss over, or underplay, the challenges that Maghaberry has faced. I emphasise that the performance of the prison is a key priority for the service.

I know that some of the Committee had the opportunity to visit Maghaberry recently. I hope that you were able to see for yourselves the work that is being delivered by Phil and his team. Given the importance of Maghaberry, I will hand over to Phil, who can give you a more detailed picture of the challenges faced by the prison and what is being done to address them.

Mr Phil Wragg (Northern Ireland Prison Service): Maghaberry faces three key challenges: resourcing, building a consistent regime and delivering outcomes for prisoners. These are interlinked, and I will outline what we have done to address them.

Staffing levels at the prison were a problem. With the help of Sue and the senior team, we have been able to address some of the issues. It is important to place on record that more than three quarters of the staff at Maghaberry did not take time off on sickness over the past 12 months. However, Maghaberry has an unstable level of staff absence due to sickness. Those staff are now being robustly managed, in accordance with the sickness absence procedures, and are being supported with measures to assist their return to work. This is a critical part of the work to get Maghaberry back on its feet.

As I have said, absence levels were not sustainable, and getting people back to work is crucial. We are already seeing the benefits of this, with sickness levels decreasing by about a third. In addition, a new staffing profile has been agreed with our local Prison Officers' Association (POA) committee that will come into effect later this month. We have also had support from our colleagues at two other prisons. I place on record my thanks to those governors and their teams for their assistance, which has seen a permanent and temporary transfer of staff to Maghaberry. Although this is not a long term solution, it has helped and demonstrated that the entire service is committed to making Maghaberry work.

Finally, our colleagues at headquarters have been, and are, recruiting staff, which has seen new officers deployed onto the landings, with more to follow early in the new year. This is all extremely positive for Maghaberry. Having the right staff in the right place at the right time is key to developing a positive and predictable regime that will deliver better outcomes for prisoners.

As Sue has said, we cannot comment on the specifics of the CJINI report. However, we have not stood still since the inspection in May. A detailed plan is in place, which has been agreed with the senior team at headquarters. This is the road map to success, and as soon as the CJINI report is published, we will ensure that our delivery plan is shared with the Committee.

Our overall aim is to ensure that Maghaberry delivers a safe, decent and secure environment for our staff and for those in our custody whom we have a duty to care for. There are serious challenges for the prison, and the necessary improvements will take time. It is my responsibility, as governor, to deliver these improvements. There are many dedicated and professional people working at the prison. I have been very impressed with what I have since I arrived, and I assure you that Maghaberry is not broken and is certainly fit for purpose. I have been given every support that I need by the director general and her team, and I have no doubt that Maghaberry will continue to improve. Hopefully, some of the Committee will have seen that on their most recent visit.

Ms S McAllister: Thanks Phil. As I have said, we are coming to the formal end of the reform programme. The changes that have taken place are unprecedented in our service. They have been achieved in spite of the financial challenges, which have seen a 30% cut in our operating budget over the last four years. We are now at the cutting edge of that work, and this has been felt by Maghaberry in particular. However, while the report will highlight issues for Maghaberry, it is important that we do not lose sight of the overall progress that has been achieved across the prison system over the last four years.

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to speak this afternoon, and we welcome any questions that you have on the issues that I have raised or on any area of our work.

The Chairperson (Mr Ross): OK. Thank you very much. We appreciate that. There are a number of areas to cover since you were last with us. It would be useful to go over some of the issues raised then and see where the progress has been. The first is that we talked about some of the developments on leadership within the prison. When you were here in March, we talked about the pretty appalling level of morale among ordinary prison officers and the staff satisfaction surveys that had been carried out. Has there been any marked improvement in that and have any surveys been carried out since then?

Ms S McAllister: OK. I will speak first and then hand over to Mark. The annual staff survey is now being completed by our staff. It was launched about a week ago.

We are providing our staff with opportunities to complete the survey online or in hard copy; so, we are encouraging as many people as possible to complete that survey because that is our way of knowing how much improvement is being made against the same survey last year.

Morale is very difficult to measure. All that I can say is that when I was at Maghaberry earlier this week, and when I have been at the other two prisons in the last month or so, staff have got their heads up, and absence levels are decreasing again. The word used to me on Tuesday at Maghaberry, by a number of people actually, was that the "vibe" was better. People felt better for a number of reasons, which we can talk about. We all know that we are paying the price for years of underinvestment in the development of our staff and that that has impacted on leadership which, in turn, is reflected in the way that staff feel about their job. That is why we have launched T50. That is why we are investing or continuing to invest time and resources into developing leadership. Mark, you might want to say a little bit more about the programme.

Mr Mark Adam (Northern Ireland Prison Service): Yes, I will do. We have not had another survey. It is going on at the moment. A couple of things had come through. One was people's ability to progress through the organisation. We have done a number of boards which we have now got into a regular process. We have had two people promoted recently to functional-head level and 13 are coming through to unit manager. That is actually bringing people through and bringing through a more diverse workforce as well, which helps.

We have also managed to resolve some of the challenges that we have had around pay through working with DFP on that. I think that that will help a lot with our ability to attract and retain people, because we did not have our pay scales, particularly for custody prison officers (CPO), at the right level. It has taken some really positive work by the POA and ourselves to get to that position.

T50 is all about actually being more tailored to an individual's needs rather than the kind of sheep-dip approach to getting people trained. We are starting to bring people through and looking at what training they need. We did a two-week programme about a month ago. People are just coming out of that. It will now be joined by a modular programme, which will include things like interchange, secondment and having a chance to be part of actual learning sets and mentoring programmes to get support from colleagues across the thing. It has proved very popular so far, but it is early days with that.

The Chairperson (Mr Ross): The leadership and development of staff is one of the recommendations that the oversight group would not sign off on. I just wonder why it has taken so long to deliver on this recommendation. It has been about three years or so.

Ms S McAllister: I think we always knew it would take significant time given that we have to operate within the constraints of Civil Service procedures to pull people through to the point where we could demonstrate that we had enough people in leadership roles and were developing them properly.

The oversight panel is now hugely encouraged by what we are doing, but it has taken us until now. We were able to exit people from the service through the voluntary early retirement (VER) scheme, but we then had to ensure that we determined — given the need to reduce our operating costs, and and so we had to reduce the numbers of our staff — how many people we had, how many we needed and how many we could afford. As Mark said, we have just been able to promote 13 people to unit manager. The crucial thing about that group of 13 is that it has a higher proportion of women and people from different community backgrounds, so we are actually now starting to do what we always knew that we needed to do, which was have a group of leaders that reflected our staff profile and crucially our prisoner profile.

It might also be helpful, with regard to morale, to get Phil to say a couple of things, because he is obviously a very experienced governor. Speaking with his governor's hat on, he might want to say how good he feels morale is in Maghaberry, which is obviously our largest and most complex establishment.

Mr Wragg: Sue just said the word, "complex". In the Northern Ireland Prison Service, this is one establishment which has to consume everything, which is different to what we might see back in GB, where establishments are able to move prisoners who provide a level of concern to other establishments and therefore alleviate what might be described as "pressure". I really commend staff in Maghaberry for the way they have managed a very difficult type of prison group; not difficult because they provide us with lots of particular difficult issues, but the fact is that it is made up of so many different forms and dimensions. We need to be careful when we talk about the word "morale" and what makes up morale. We are blighted in that people leave our organisations to join other organisations because the pay is slightly better, and they only need to give us a month's notice. Therefore, we lose individuals from the ground floor.

We have had an absenteeism problem. One might say that there is a culture of absenteeism that we are now having to address through policy, but it all adds up to having fewer staff on the ground to be able to unlock prisoners and therefore provide a safe and effective regime. That raises tension, which decreases the morale in the prison. It is almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy. At the moment, we are getting back to basics. We talk about getting resourcing right. We talk about the regimes and getting that right. By ensuring that we deliver an effective use of resources by engaging with our staff and listening to their needs and concerns, the absenteeism rate is reducing. Sue and her team delivering staff from the other two establishments in our organisation is raising morale because they can see that there are more uniforms on the landings.

The Chairperson (Mr Ross): You said earlier that the sickness rate had dropped by about a third. Is that right?

Mr Wragg: Yes.

The Chairperson (Mr Ross): What is the current sickness rate across the Prison Service and specifically in Maghaberry?

Ms S McAllister: In Maghaberry, when Phil took over — just after we were in front of you before — it was running at around 90 members of staff.

Mr Wragg: It was 95 when I took over, and it is 59 this morning.

The Chairperson (Mr Ross): How has that been achieved? What has been put in place that has reduced the level of sickness?

Ms S McAllister: First, we are absolutely clear, from looking at other organisations that do well with sick absence, that the best thing to do is follow your procedures consistently. We are doing that now. We are supporting the governors to follow those procedures consistently.

The Chairperson (Mr Ross): Why was it not being done before Phil took over?

Ms S McAllister: To be frank, some of our colleagues found it difficult to manage people under the sick absence procedures because that sometimes involves having difficult conversations and having to make some decisions fairly clinically as well as understanding the human cost of some of those decisions.

Managers, including those at very senior levels, were reluctant to concede that some people needed to be supported to exit the organisation as well as feeling that they had the permission to put measures in place so that people could come back to work on different arrangements for a short period of time.

The most significant thing that has been happening recently is that Phil and his colleagues have been having one-to-one conversations with staff and treating every case on its merits. This has resulted in a number of staff deciding that they want to come back to work because they are hearing that things are getting better. Some decided that they no longer wished to be in our organisation and resigned. So, rather than us carrying those staff on sick absence, they left the service. Some have, with our support, put a plan in place to come back in the foreseeable future. It was just about following our own procedures. It was nothing more or less than that.

The Chairperson (Mr Ross): When you were with us in March, the level of staffing across the Prison Service was between 86 and 130 short. Where are we now with the number of prison officers?

Mr Adam: In Maghaberry — Phil, correct me if I am wrong — I think that we are still about 38 prison officers short.

Mr Wragg: We are.

Mr Adam: We have an ongoing recruitment process at the moment, and we have moved some staff around. Now that we have resolved the pay issue, we are just about to launch another recruitment for custody prison officers (CPOs). That will be much more attractive than it was going to be before, and the process will bring people in for the early part of the new year. We have also agreed recently with the unions to reintroduce the night custody officers, which allows us to bring some people off nights and to staff the nights with dedicated groups. All of that will start to have an impact. We have had a number of successful promotions through from our escort service, which has provided people across the jail. It has not completely closed the gap yet, but it is starting to reduce the differences.

The Chairperson (Mr Ross): What is the level of retention of new staff and new recruits? It seems to me that there has been a considerable dropout of new recruits.

Mr Adam: We were losing a lot who were moving to the police for new jobs because of the money. That is why we were able to make the case fairly recently to DFP that we had to do something about our pay levels. It was having a huge impact.

The Prison Officers' Association (POA) and I felt quite strongly that we needed to look at that because 90% of the people whom we were losing were applying for and getting other jobs on a higher wage.

The Chairperson (Mr Ross): I will just touch on two other issues before I open up to members. One of the other issues that we talked about at the time was drug use. We understand that there is a real issue with mental health in our prisons and that over 80% of prisoners are on some form of medication. Has there been any improvement in the level of abuse of prescribed medication and illegal drugs in the prison?

Mr Wragg: We are in the process of assessing our figures on mandatory drug testing to establish exactly what the misuse rate of illegal drugs is in the establishment. I am unable to provide the Committee with that data at the moment, but we will be able to the next time we come before you. We are looking at how we can police the abuse of prescribed medication and working with colleagues from healthcare provision so that the ability for prisoners to give to somebody else medication prescribed for them is, as far as possible, minimised. We recognise, though, that it is hard when somebody who has been prescribed medication decides to hand it over to somebody else. We cannot police 24 hours a day what people do with their medication, but it is an issue that we recognise.

The Chairperson (Mr Ross): Finally, I see that you mentioned positive, constructive change for prisoners, or offenders, and I think that, from listening to the Prime Minister yesterday, even old-fashioned law-and-order Conservatives now recognise that prisons are there not only to punish and take away liberty but to rehabilitate offenders so that they do not reoffend when they get out of prison. On my visits to prison previously — I think that members were there quite recently — the number of prisoners in the workshops was virtually zero. Can you give us some indication of the current level of usage of the workshops? Why are so few prisoners participating, and how will you ensure that offenders take part in work programmes in prison to allow them to get proper jobs when they get out?

Ms S McAllister: I will hand over to Brian in a minute because it is his area. It is significant that one of our four key strategic priorities, which we talked about earlier, once we have moved away from focusing on the 40 recommendations, is purposeful activity. I am absolutely clear that that has to be a key priority for us. In recent years, we had probably taken our eye off the ball when it came to counting the number of people in workshops, and we were focusing more on qualifications. What we are realising is that we need to do both. If we are not getting people out of their cells and into workshops, into education and on to outside work placements, we cannot start to work with them.

We have made real strides. At Hydebank, for example, frequently, 100% of prisoners are off the landings and in classrooms, workshops or on outside work placements. It is more difficult at Maghaberry. At Magilligan, everyone is unlocked all day, but we do not have enough constructive activity for everybody to participate in, and that is why a key part of our estate strategy will be building enough activity places. Certainly, we need to do even more work to fill the workshops that we have, but we have made real strides, not just inside workshops but by identifying partnerships so that people can work outside and by bringing people into the prison to work with us.

Mr Brian McCaughey (Northern Ireland Prison Service): I repeat that, when we send people to prison, it should be a place where there is an opportunity for change. However, it is imperative that they are out at education and at workshops. Purposeful activity is key in ensuring that prisons can be a place for positive and constructive change for prisoners. That is why I have now introduced for every prisoner, on entering prison, a comprehensive assessment of their risks, needs and strengths, and a personal development plan is developed from that. It is managed by a prison officer for the substantive part of the sentence, but that personal development plan should dictate the activity of a prisoner, their attendance at workshops, their attendance at education and their attendance at therapeutic interventions. The prison officer, who is the sentence manager, should coordinate that plan and all the providers. In that way, you will see an increase not just in workshop attendance but in education, the number of programmes, the attendance at programmes and the efficacy of programmes. Hopefully, doing that work and putting it in place will change the picture that you saw when you visited.

The Chairperson (Mr Ross): I appreciate that, but I asked about the current level of usage of the programme. You said that, in Hydebank, it is, at times, 100%. What about Maghaberry and Magilligan? What is the current usage of the education programmes there?

Ms S McAllister: The current constructive activity level —

Mr Wragg: It is currently 55%.

The Chairperson (Mr Ross): What about Maghaberry?

Ms S McAllister: I realise that you are particularly interested in workshops, but we now have over 100 prisoners who go to placements outside the three prisons. All have been fully risk-assessed so that they can safely be allowed to go out. That allows them not only to make a contribution to their communities by working there but to gain real skills that will help them to get a job on their release. We have some really fantastic partnerships in place with organisations that are willing to take prisoners. This is not about taking jobs from other people; these are unpaid placements. Prisoners are still paid in the way that they would be in prison but do a proper job for 37 to 40 hours a week. We have been able to be flexible about shift working and antisocial hours to accommodate those people, and we are very confident that we will be able to do even more. We have identified two managers at headquarters who will focus on employment and enterprise so that we can focus on constructive activity.

The Chairperson (Mr Ross): Stewart, if you do not mind, may Alban go first because he has to leave?

The Chairperson (Mr Ross): I appreciate that, Stewart.

Mr A Maginness: Thank you very much for your indulgence, Chair. I thank the witnesses very much for their contribution.

Just by way of comment, I think that considerable progress has been made. You get to a point when all the recommendations have been implemented, but the task does not stop there; it continues.

Ms S McAllister: Absolutely.

Mr A Maginness: This is an imperfect and very untidy process, and people have to respect that.

I think that we have moved away from the "baddies and goodies" approach to prison reform, and it is not just a clash between conservatives and terrible reactionaries in the Prison Service. It is progressive, and I think that all of us in the Committee share that view.

On the subject of constructive activity, I am particularly concerned about the young offenders centre (YOC), the development of the college and the college culture there. How successful has that been? I know that it is in its infancy, but can you give us some indication of how advanced you think that it is?

Ms S McAllister: I will ask Brian to do that.

Mr McCaughey: The college was established six months ago, so it is really in its infancy, but it has, I have to say, been transformed. Some of you have visited Maghaberry. If I may, on behalf of the director general and the governor of Hydebank, I invite you to visit Hydebank college. In my world, seeing is believing. Come and see it, and you will see an absolute change in Hydebank.

The key challenge was introducing a college ethos and putting learning and skills at the heart of everything that was happening. Chair, in response to your earlier comments about workshops, daily attendance at learning and skills at Hydebank is now at least 80% and has, on some days, been 100%. Work continues.

We now refer to those at the college as students, but, of course, they come to us from the courts, and many lack intellectual ability or have behavioural problems, addictions or mental health issues.

There is significant underachievement among young males. We have identified two main groups or cohorts: those who are educationally underachieving with no behavioural difficulties; and those who also have considerable difficulties, including some with drug-seeking behaviours. We have established a new unit to deal with those underachieving young males, and we provide education and pastoral support, drug counselling and personal development for each student. It is very much an individual-based approach.

It was pleasing for me that the spirit of the Owers report was that prisons should be part of the community, and the community should be part of prisons. Prisons in Northern Ireland had not really experienced that. As Sue said, we have 26 students who go out every day on work placements and work parties to learn new skills. In my mind, they do so also to pay back for the offences that they have committed and the harm that they have done to the community.

We have 40 new partners who are engaging with us in Hydebank to deliver our college ethos: 40 new community partners who come in to work with us daily. We have also established some college principles that I am very proud of. We have an ethos in the college that promotes personal development, citizenship and community safety. It is very different from what it was. Educational learning and skills drive the regime. Every student has a personal development plan, and all staff promote and support the college principles and the curriculum delivery. More importantly for me, the college seeks to develop community relations and engagement.

I think that you will be very interested to hear that Hydebank college has been running a number of senior citizens clubs with an intergenerational focus. We bring together young people and the older generation so that they can share and exchange experiences. That is very important for the elderly, given their fear of crime and of being a victim of crime, and it allows young people to meet the victims of crime and understand the impact of their actions. I invite you to see that.

That is the change that has taken place in Hydebank.

Mr A Maginness: That is extremely welcome, and I thank you for that. I leave it up to the Chair and the Committee to decide, but my vote would certainly be for a visit. I will leave that up to you, Chair.

The Chairperson (Mr Ross): How many young offenders, or students, as you called them, find work once they are released from Hydebank?

Ms S McAllister: Indeed they do, and some have found work already. Some have been given placements with a view to securing employment on release. You may also be aware of The Thinking Cup initiative, which is a social enterprise based on offering employment to young fathers released from Hydebank. It has been identified that children of people who have been in prison are more likely to come into contact with the criminal justice system, and it is about breaking that cycle. You may also want to visit that establishment. It is a very impressive place where some young men with very challenging behaviours have not only secured employment but, crucially, sustained employment and are doing very well.

The Chairperson (Mr Ross): Do we have figures for not only how many find employment within a period after release but whether they are staying in employment for a sizeable period?

Mr McCaughey: The answer to that might better come from my former organisation, the Probation Board, which manages offenders in the community. In all honesty, everything that we do is about preparing young men for employment. As you will appreciate, many come in with limited literacy and numeracy skills. I think that I said at the Committee before that, if we can teach people to read and write and function properly for their return to the community, that is the contribution that we can make to making them more employable. Every establishment, including Hydebank, has employability and enterprise on its curriculum so that all the young men have the opportunity to do things that they have never done before, such as preparing CVs, preparing for interviews, doing role play and practising. We are preparing and equipping them to meet the challenges to find employment. I do not have an exact employment figure, but the 26 young men whom we send out daily on work parties and placements have a head start.

The Chairperson (Mr Ross): Can we get those figures? Do you track people who are released over a certain period?

Mr McCaughey: Previously, we financially supported a project called Jobtrack that was delivered by our colleagues in the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NIACRO). Unfortunately, it was unsuccessful in attracting European social fund (ESF) moneys this time round. The figures they captured were for preparation and interviews. The employment figures were lower.

Ms S McAllister: We share your view, Chair, that it is not just about employability, which is not a word that I particularly like. It is also about people getting and keeping jobs and staying in them. Now that we are doing that rather than NIACRO delivering the service, we will track how many people are involved. We may decide that that is one of our important performance metrics.

Mr McCaughey: I mentioned NIACRO's unsuccessful bid for European social fund moneys. I know that some members are very interested in the voluntary and community sector. We had set aside match funding, and, rather than redirecting it because NIACRO was unsuccessful, we used it in-year to identify three placement officers, one in each establishment, who are working with staff on learning and skills, and identifying placements and employment.

I will take that back and build in the numbers who find employment.

Mr Dickson: I thank all of you for what you have been doing and for the clear progress that is being made. I was at the prison a few weeks ago. I think that Ms McAllister commented on her perception of the atmosphere there. My snapshot on that day was very different from the one on my previous visit. I could feel that there was a very different and much more positive atmosphere among the staff whom I met and in the demeanour of prisoners.

May I turn to Mr Wragg, who is new to the service and performing the role of governor at Maghaberry? Your background is working in very difficult prisons. I understand that you were governor of Belmarsh, which is one of the United Kingdom's most challenging prisons.

Mr Wragg: Yes, that is correct.

Mr Dickson: What challenges did you meet on coming to Maghaberry, and how do you see them having changed in your time there?

Mr Wragg: First, thank you very much for your positive and helpful comments on your visit. When I arrived, I was asked whether I thought that Maghaberry was broken. Clearly, my opinion is no, Maghaberry is absolutely not broken. It has one of the best group of staff and senior management teams that I have encountered in my career in custodial environments.

Among the concerns that we have had is that the establishment is complex. I outlined earlier that it has to deal with a number of different types of prisoners under one roof and without the ability to move to other establishments people who provide us with a level of concern. Therefore, what a member of staff deals with today, he or she will deal with tomorrow. That makes staff in the establishment very good at dealing with a wide range of quite difficult issues.

Unfortunately, the negative side of that is that it can become debilitating for those members of staff. Therefore, we need to ensure that we have a rotation policy in play that allows equal misery, if you will, across the establishment for all members of staff working in all different areas. However, no single part of the establishment should fare better or worse than another. We are trying to balance that by having the right level of resource in all parts of the prison at all times to ensure an equal regime that allows people to access all parts of it. In that way, we can lower tension, thus ensuring that we have a better outturn for offenders on a more consistent level. We are making good progress, and that good progress requires means good, positive communication to staff and prisoners.

I regularly meet my staff during what I call coffee with the governor. It used to be lunch with the governor, but, in these very tight fiscal times, we have had to draw back from that. We can learn a lot from what our staff tell us directly about where they see a need to change. One of the simple things that they asked for, which they used to have but, for different reasons, was no longer there, was a staff facility — a restaurant. Within a very short time — three weeks — the dedicated team in Maghaberry created a staff facility from what was a breakfast-pack workshop. It is such a resounding success that we are looking at expanding the facility, because it cannot fit the number of people who want to use it. That provides an environment for staff to be able to have quality food at a good price and the time for a chat with colleagues. The important thing is that there are prisoners doing the catering and earning a qualification by working in that environment. The challenge that we had before — staff said that they would not work in an environment where food was being provided by prisoners — has disappeared, so it is a win-win situation.

Mr Dickson: In addition to being governor of Maghaberry, you have oversight of all prisons, and I will turn to the other two. I am interested in the long-term work needed to the prison estate at Magilligan and the rehabilitation work being done there; and in the issue at Hydebank. I hope that the Chair will encourage the Committee to take up the invitation to go to Hydebank and look at what is happening in the college. May I ask one specific question about the college, about which we are being told a very positive story? If an offender reaches the age for transfer to adult prison, are any mechanisms in place to allow them to finish their sentence at Hydebank, particularly if they are heavily engaged in gaining a qualification or vocational experience?

Ms S McAllister: I will answer that question while I still have that train of thought. It is timely that you ask because we have just been looking at that, Stewart. We had a couple of people who fell into that category. Our current rules allow us to keep people until their twenty-fourth birthday, but we know that some long-term offenders may get to their twenty-fourth birthday and be in exactly the position that you describe. There are a number of things that we can do. First, we are looking at how or whether we might want to change legislation to make the age 25, because that seems a round number. It also makes sense in view of the numbers: the number of young offenders has gone down, so Hydebank has plenty of capacity, but Maghaberry is still crowded — less crowded than it was, but still crowded.

What we can do is look at how we use Burren House, for example, and I will draw on a real case. Recently, a young man who was coming up to his twenty-fourth birthday was on the enhanced level of the privileges scheme and going out regularly. There was no reason at all why he needed to go back into closed conditions — we can look at Magilligan as an onward progression — and it was absolutely appropriate to look at transferring that particular young man straight to Burren House, which is the nearest that we have to an open prison, as you know, where he could continue to engage with Belfast Met College. So, what we are trying to do — it is one of the things written on the whiteboard in my office — is to get as much flexibility as we can so that we can treat everybody as an individual, and that goes back to what Brian said about everybody having a personal development plan.

Mr McCaughey: I will pick up on the question about rehabilitation in Magilligan. I think that the biggest challenge for Magilligan, as everybody knows, is the state of the facilities. Magilligan needs a rebuild, and there is no getting away from that. We met the former Finance Minister to discuss the entire prison estate, including Magilligan. Until a rebuild happens, it will never be able to reach its full potential. That said, I am very pleased that the area of rehabilitation and resettlement got the highest score possible in the latest inspection. We still pursue excellence in what we do, despite the state of the estate itself, and rehabilitation at Magilligan is scoring highly.

I was reflecting on the Chair's first comment, and I am mindful that the Minister of Justice and the Minister for Employment and Learning launched the outsourcing of learning and skills in May. That will lead to a wider curriculum; to further and increased accreditation; and to an increase in the range of workshops and vocational and educational opportunities. We have also worked to ensure — this is linked to the previous question — that all qualifications are aligned across the three establishments so that, if you commence a course in one establishment and are moved, you can continue it.

Ms S McAllister: You mentioned, Stewart, that Phil is wearing two hats. We are mindful of concerns raised previously about that happening, so we have put in place measures to mitigate those risks. Steve Davis, whom some of you will know as the governor of Magilligan, has worked in NIPS for a long time, and he has been temporarily promoted to a director role to support Phil and the rest of the team. At the moment, he line-manages the governors of Magilligan and Hydebank. To ensure that there is clarity on that, we are discussing how that might work. Essentially, we have put in additional senior support for Phil so that he can concentrate on Maghaberry, as well as doing the more strategic work associated with the director of operations. Had we had five seats here, we would have brought Steve with us because he is a key part of our senior team and brings many years of experience in NIPS to the table.

Mr McCartney: Go raibh maith agat. Thank you for the presentation. It is my understanding that the review programme is, if not coming to an end, coming to a point of departure. I understand that Anne Owers will come back, and we will, of course, await her findings.

The CJINI report into Maghaberry has not yet been published, so we would do well to hold our comments until it is, and we can then have a better discussion. I will touch on some of the broad issues as I make these points. The recommendations are, if you like, the theory of how you change what the review team felt needed to be changed, and we have a report as to how they have now been implemented. One of the key recommendations is recommendation 30, which is in relation to the personal plans for prisoners. How does recommendation 30 translate to the three prisons, and what progress has been made on it across them?

Mr McCaughey: Recommendation 30 is the assessment of risks, needs and strengths.

Mr McCartney: It states that prisoners should have a personalised custody sentence plan. You talked about it previously.

Mr McCaughey: As it works now, every sentenced prisoner coming in will be assessed in the first weeks against their risks, needs and strengths. With the prisoner, rather than on or to the prisoner, the staff member will construct a personal development plan (PDP), in the same way that all of us have personal development plans in our workplaces. We have worked this model up with the Probation Board. The prison officer will act as the PDP coordinator. It is his or her responsibility to hold all the other providers and deliverers to the PDP to account and to review it at regular intervals. The model states that, at the 12-month stage, the baton is passed to the Probation Board, which takes the individual out towards the community and, in most instances now, supervision in the community. At present — I can say this, having checked last week — 75% of prisoners have a PDP completed. We are working through the rest of the population.

Mr McCartney: I was struck earlier when you said that seeing is believing. Is the rate of success, if that is the right way of putting it, better in Magilligan, Hydebank or Maghaberry? Which is the strongest and the weakest of the three prisons in delivering the —

Mr McCaughey: My assessment, having engaged with governors delivering the personal development arrangements, which I do every month, is that Magilligan and Hydebank are well on their way, and we are working through the backlog in Maghaberry.

Mr McCartney: Are there particular reasons why that is the case?

Mr McCaughey: I think that it is related to our earlier conversations.

Mr McCartney: I was struck by something that Phil said: one of the first questions that he was asked when he came was whether he considered Maghaberry to be broken. It makes you wonder why someone would ask that question.

Mr Wragg: Where we have resourcing and regime issues, people sometimes think, "So, what is the way forward? How do we get ourselves forward from this?". People will dwell on the negative rather than extolling the positives and thinking about whether there are opportunities — of course there are opportunities — to move the establishment forward. With my level of experience, they were looking for an articulation of what I thought the establishment looked like and whether I thought that it was rescue-able, for want of a better expression. To be absolutely candid, all establishments can be rescued; I do not know of any establishment that cannot be rescued. My answer is that it certainly is not broken.

Mr McCartney: Yes, but rescued from what?

Mr Wragg: When an establishment finds itself — we have already articulated this — in that staffing position, it is inevitable that, if we have people resigning from the organisation at a quick pace, it is very difficult for our organisation to keep up with that. How are we going to put in plans, which we already have done, to move people from other establishments to supporting an establishment where we have an exit?

Mr McCaughey: Whilst I have referred to Maghaberry as having a backlog, I am absolutely confident that work on rehabilitation and resettlement is of a high standard.

Mr McCartney: Yes, and I do not doubt the standard. The Chair and others have said that the number of people who are out of their cells and in the workshops is low in Maghaberry.

Ms S McAllister: It is low, but it is getting better. We talked about the level of lockdowns at a previous appearance at the Committee, and, when I was at Maghaberry this week, staff described to me that they now sometimes have to say to prisoners, "You are locked up one night this week", rather than, as they said previously, "You will be out one night this week". That is the level of improvement. We can and do capture and measure those things. Maghaberry had lost pride in itself, or its pride in itself was suffering. As we have said, the staff are now more upbeat and they feel better led and are better led, and that is coming over in how the regime is delivered.

Mr McCaughey: Raymond, the other point is that, since May, we have been introducing the new provider, recruiting new instructors and new teachers, and transferring prison staff across on secondment to those new providers. I absolutely want those workshops and classes to be filled to the neck, and I want accreditations for the people who attend them; it is on that basis that we have engaged in a service-level agreement (SLA) with the new providers.

Mr McCartney: I do not doubt the intention; I am not questioning that. Phil talked about a culture of sickness. Where you hear the words "culture of", you do not think of sickness through stress or whatever. If the word "culture" is used, it nearly looks as if it is something, and you wonder how much of that undermines the ability. One of the key principles is leadership, and, in Maghaberry — I am not questioning it — leadership has been lacking. As I have said before, when you go into Magilligan, Hydebank and Maghaberry, you see that, in two of the prisons, there is a sense of expansion and of being expansive. I said this to the governors whom we met in Maghaberry: there is a feeling that Maghaberry is still treated as a high-security prison with the approach of lockdown rather than of opening up.

Ms S McAllister: You are absolutely right. I do not know when you were last in Maghaberry, Raymond, but, as you know, we have changed a number of key people on the senior management team, including the governor responsible for resettlement in the prisoner development unit (PDU), and that has had an impact. Part of our need to reconfigure Maghaberry is so that we have a dedicated high-security facility and so that not everywhere has to be resourced to that level and, significantly, not everywhere has that level of constraint placed upon it. As you say, seeing is believing, and we can only demonstrate that the levels of constructive activity are going up as we come in front of you over time.

Mr McCartney: I was last in at the start of July. People had got the report and were speculating on what the report was going to be. That is fine; we will come back to it. I have said before at the Committee — I accept that I am not a professional manager of a prison — that the make-up of Maghaberry makes it very difficult to manage, because of the different profile of prisoners, from remands right through to people who are serving life sentences. Recommendation 5 mentioned three mini prisons. I think that I have said this here and possibly to yourselves as the senior team, but I certainly said it to the senior managers in Maghaberry that when we visited the prison, we noticed a resistance to that from day one. They said that it was impractical and would not work.

Ms S McAllister: To the three mini prisons?

Ms S McAllister: I suggest that that resistance is not there at senior level anymore. There is a clear understanding of why it needs to happen, and the first stage, which is the 360 block, is now under way. The invitations to tender for that project have just gone out. We are clear that that is what needs to happen.

Mr McCartney: OK. If you do not get off to a good start in a process of reform, it can become stunted and can run into the sand. There are complexities at the heart of Maghaberry, and sometimes it can be the elephant in the room. You have separated prisoners. Phil has come in from England. When you go in, you see the amount of resources that are needed in a small contained space with a small number of prisoners, yet everybody whom you talk to in the Prison Service talks about "10 extra staff". When we were in Hydebank one day, the governor said that 10 extra staff would guarantee that prisoners would never be locked down.

Ms S McAllister: Yes. I had a similar conversation and was astounded at that view and disappointed by that response, because that was a clear indication that some of my senior colleagues were not accepting responsibility for what was happening and were looking to be bailed out, if you like. That is no longer the case. We have now a team that knows what needs to be done, has rolled up its sleeves and is doing it. However, we fully accept that we can be judged only on our outcomes. So, we need to demonstrate that what were seen as encouraging early signs in the new senior management team are sustained.

Mr McCartney: Finally, when do we expect the CJINI report to be published?

Ms S McAllister: Our understanding is that it will be published in the last week in October.

Mr McCartney: OK. Thank you very much, and I apologise for having to leave at about 3.15 pm.

Mr Poots: First, welcome to Northern Ireland, Mr Wragg.

Mr Wragg: Thank you very much.

Mr Poots: I trust that you will perhaps stay a bit longer than some of your predecessors. I genuinely do not think that it is helpful to the Prison Service that we get a high turnover of people at a senior management level. I welcome the fact that you are double-jobbing at the moment, because there has always been a bit of an issue about the senior management team perhaps being somewhat detached from what is taking place, and Maghaberry is our most difficult and controversial prison. So, the fact that you are involved in Maghaberry may be helpful. What is the breakdown between the two jobs? It may not be absolutely definitive, but what is the rough percentage split in your time?

Mr Wragg: At the moment, it is certainly plus-80% in Maghaberry and a lot less than 20% is on the road, trying to do some strategic work as director of operations. I have been extremely well supported by Stephen Davis, who has taken on the acting role of director of operations, which allows me to concentrate my time predominantly in Maghaberry.

Mr Poots: Have you created new or different means of finding drugs in the prison? Has that changed somewhat?

Ms S McAllister: Has it — Sorry?

Mr Poots: Has how a find is described been changed? Do finds have to be more significant now than previously?

Ms S McAllister: No, our —

Mr Poots: Are all drugs finds recorded or only drug finds of significance?

Ms S McAllister: No, our policies remain the same. We do mandatory drug testing of 5% or 10% of prisoners, depending on the size of the prison. We certainly would not condone drug finds not being recorded. Our response to finds will vary according to the amount and type of drugs, and we know that there are issues with our ability to test for some of the new drugs that are coming onto the market. We share those concerns with services in other jurisdictions, but our —

Mr Poots: Do you inform the PSNI only in more serious cases?

Ms S McAllister: Just as we and other services have always done. The PSNI is not always as interested as we might hope, although it has finite resources as well. So although we regularly give drugs finds to our PSNI colleagues, sometimes finds are dealt with through the internal prison disciplinary system rather than being referred to the PSNI and dealt with as criminal matters.

Mr Wragg: We certainly do not condone drugs in any establishment, and we have dedicated resources to mandatory drug testing. We have looked into how we bring people back from sick who may not be fully fit for front-line operational duties. A particularly good example is this case: we have a senior officer who has a damaged ankle but is able to come to work. He is now leading on the mandatory drug testing; therefore, we can be assured that we are testing regularly. He has done 110 tests in the past two weeks. So we are hot on drugs and hot on testing for drugs, and we want to know exactly what the level of drug non-compliance is in the establishment.

Mr Poots: Of course, prescription drugs are always an issue. However, that problem is inherited by you because people come in who are reliant on prescription drugs. In preparing people for the outside, more work needs to be done on that as well, albeit that the issue is challenging.

I would like to ask about assaults on prison officers. It seems that you consider the throwing of urine over a prison officer as constituting an assault.

Ms S McAllister: Yes.

Mr Poots: Is it the case that prison officers who have taken off time on sick on the back of that have been threatened with disciplinary action?

Ms S McAllister: Nobody would be threatened with disciplinary action, but every colleague who is absent on sick leave will be dealt with individually, and it is quite appropriate to use our sick absence management processes. Obviously, we consider the circumstances that led to someone going off sick, but if somebody were off sick as a result of having urine thrown over them, presumably that would be a stress-related illness.

Mr Poots: It could be. If it was in their eyes, it could have other impacts.

Ms S McAllister: However, we cannot sustain people who are absent from their workplace sine die; it is just not possible. Nevertheless, we can be more flexible in how we implement our procedures.

Mr Wragg: We have a robust policy for managing attendance because we have a work force that we want to come to work. However, that does not mean that we are uncaring. Unfortunately, staff will be assaulted at work. However, I am pleased to say that assaults on staff are reducing: there were two in September and two in August.

As I have already outlined, we bring staff back to work who may not be fully fit to go into front-line operational work but who are able to come back into the workplace and be with their colleagues. We often find that being with colleagues is one of the best forms of coming back to duties because staff feel more supported rather than being at home. However, if a member of staff feels that they have an issue that is ongoing and they feel that they cannot come back to full-time effective duties, then, as an employer, we have to take responsible action. However, we do not sack people; it is not the first option.

Mr Poots: Well, I would not expect sacking; I referred to "disciplinary action" as opposed to sacking. There are nearly always threats of some description, but what is the current threat level? Is it high, low or medium?

Ms S McAllister: The current level of threat is graded at severe. We regularly meet our PSNI colleagues to make sure that the threat level is up to date. Phil and Stephen Davis met PSNI colleagues only this morning to talk about the situation. I do not want to talk in any more detail in this forum, but the threat level is severe and has been severe for some time, and we continue to take it very seriously.

Mr Poots: That is deeply worrying. I met the widow of David Black in the summertime at an event. The pain and anguish are still there. We must do everything that we can to ensure that that kind of thing does not happen; we have to do everything that we can to avoid another family being left in that circumstance.

Do you monitor social media, for example?

Ms S McAllister: We rely on the PSNI to monitor criminal activity on social media. We do not, as an organisation, use social media routinely for security reasons. We regularly give our staff advice on how and when to use social media. It is an interesting point that you make, though, because the new generation of custody prison officers (CPOs) routinely use social media as a way of keeping in touch with their families.

Mr Poots: I mean following the social media that dissident republicans and so forth in particular use.

Ms S McAllister: We have access to information that comes from the monitoring of such websites.

Mr Poots: A gentleman in my constituency complained that there had been a threat — I think, in fact, that it was against two of them — in which his name had been mentioned, but he had not been informed of it by the Prison Service. A colleague had picked it up and had identified it to him. A letter had been written to him saying that the Prison Service does not routinely monitor those types of websites. I would have thought that it would be worthwhile keeping an eye on them, to be honest.

Ms S McAllister: We do not have the expertise to do that, but we do have access to, and speak regularly with, other agencies that can do it.

Mr Poots: So, someone does that and informs you.

Ms S McAllister: Yes.

Mr Poots: Right. That would technically leave the letter correct, but it would not be in the spirit of it. He obviously had not been informed and was annoyed that he had not been informed. The letter said that you did not monitor social media. Technically you do not, but you have someone who does it on your behalf.

Ms S McAllister: I would be more than happy to discuss that case, because I do not know that letter, but we should certainly reassure our colleagues.

Mr Poots: OK; thank you.

Mr Frew: Can I go back to the recruitment issue? In June, you said that you were 80 or 86 below target staffing levels. Is there an update on that? What are the latest stats?

Ms S McAllister: I will ask Mark to talk about the current position, what we are doing on recruitment and when.

Mr Adam: We are going from 86 to 38, which is where we are with officer levels. I think that there are also 17 senior officers. The number of those is a result of recent promotions of managers and the need to bring people through. A campaign has been open for a while, and there have been some 2,000 applicants to go into the escort services. We are bringing through three waves of that. The first lot should be in training within the next month, and then we will probably take two further intakes.

Now that we have resolved the pay issue for CPOs, we will go back out directly for CPOs, because we think that it will be quite attractive, so that we can keep that pipeline going. We have reopened for night-custody officers, which allows us to recruit them directly and therefore take officers off nights and deploy them on days. That has allowed us to address some of those issues.

Mr Frew: So there has been an intake since March. There were to be two — one in early summer and one in the autumn. Is that still on schedule?

Mr Adam: Yes, it is. It has just been a case of getting the right quality of candidates through.

Mr Frew: OK. How many recruits have come through? If it was 80 below in March and it is now 38 below the staffing levels target, obviously there is a net success there, but how many recruits did that include and how many did we lose?

Mr Adam: I would need to check the figures of exactly how many came in and went out and come back to you. We will write to you on that. There were three intakes. I think that it was planned to have about 20. We get people going out. You see it at different times. Some people do not make the security clearance or the health assessments, for example. I would need to get you the exact figures. The number that we have been losing on a regular basis has slowed up, partly because, I think, people think that the pay is worth staying for rather than leaving for other jobs. It is also worth noting that, since the beginning of this year, we have had 68 medical retirements, so that has taken our numbers down. When we start to think that we are plugging a gap, it opens up again in a different way, which is why we want to start another big campaign for custody officers to make sure that we do not end up in the same position next summer as we started in last summer. It means starting now.

Mr Frew: Are medical retirements a new or unique thing, or are they something that you have always had to live with?

Mr Adam: It is something that we have always had to live with, although we have seen a spike in it recently. When I looked at the recent sickness absence levels I saw that ours were higher than in the rest of the Civil Service, so it is something that we get more of than others, but it is probably in the nature of our job. As Phil said earlier, people can burn out in that kind of job without the right support, so I would expect us to have a higher number than some other Civil Service departments.

Mr Frew: I take it that your staff qualify for the voluntary exit scheme.

Ms S McAllister: Yes.

Mr Frew: Has that had any bearing on your thinking with regard to the future, even the immediate future?

Ms S McAllister: Yes. We have already lost some senior people.

We were talking, only today, about succession planning and planning for people who will be leaving in the next three tranches. The numbers at prison officer grades are not large, but they were eligible to apply.

Mr Adam: As yet, no letters of offer have gone out to any prison officers, but we know that a significant number expressed an interest. So, we will work on the theory that, if they do get picked up — again, it is back to why I want another big recruitment drive: we think that we are going to need to bring in —

Mr Frew: If everybody who qualified or was accepted were to accept a place on the voluntary exit scheme — that might not necessarily be the case, but you will have to plan for that — what percentage of your staff would that affect?

Mr Adam: It is difficult to say because they are not listed, but probably about 5% or 6%.

Ms S McAllister: We know from previous schemes that it is very unlikely that all of those would accept, but we would plan for that. That is why, as Mark said, we are turning on the tap for recruitment. We have said this before, I think: we need to have a pool of people who we can call on at fairly short notice to fill those gaps.

Mr Adam: Given the terms and conditions of our staff, it is very attractive for some and very unattractive for others, given their ability to draw their gratuity at 55. We know that the applications that we got from people were before that became clear. We know that a number will turn around and say, "It is not worth it for us" as a result. So, we are not as worried as we may have been at first. But it does not mean that we can afford to not plan for that eventuality.

Mr Frew: I understand that there will be a wide spectrum —

Mr Adam: Yes. Some people who did not expect to benefit have found that they will actually benefit quite a lot.

Mr Frew: OK. When you were here in March, I asked questions around the actual training regime and the programme itself. In April 2014 the final evaluation of the recruit training programme was completed, and it stated that on-the-job experience during the training programme, together with practical daily routine topics, were not necessarily being done at that time and should be done. Is there any comment on that? Is there any improvement or progress in that regard?

Mr Adam: There are two things really. In the last lot of training that we did, we gave people what we described as their white-sheet week — we actually have expanded that to two weeks — and we gave that to them before they went into training, so that they had a degree of practical experience that they could then bring into the training college and say, "Actually, I saw this" or "I was able to ask this question", rather than just learning it academically and then being expected to apply it. So, that is what we have just done with the people on our last lot of promotions. We also have, and have had for some time, plans to look at whether having our training delivered in isolation down in Millisle is the best thing, or whether we should align it more closely to a jail, and we are exploring that option very seriously now. Providing the sums add up, we will move our training on site, so people can get a much better context, right from the outset, of practical jail craft rather than just the theory.

Mr Frew: What does "practical jail craft" actually look like? What does it mean? I can see even you not understanding it, not being an expert or technician in this field, but knowing that this must be a good thing.

Ms S McAllister: It is a good question, and I was just thinking as Mark was speaking. I trained as a prison officer in 1986, and my son trained as a prison officer two years ago, and we both said exactly the same thing. We wanted to get out onto the landings and start doing the job and not have this classroom stuff. So, it is a story as old as time. We do have to have that element of classroom input so that our staff are fit to do the job, equipped to do the job and legally can use force on prisoners, for example, or have access to the information that they need. What jail craft means is the nuts and bolts of how you count prisoners, how you search a cell, how you account for keys, how you treat locks and how you do that basic supervision of prisoners and account for prisoners.

As Mark said, we do some of that before they start their training, but we also ought to remember that all those new officers will be on probation for a year, during which time they will have regular training input, and thereafter we give them annual refreshers in those parts of the jobs that are most sensitive, particularly around control and restraint and supporting prisoners at risk of suicide.

So, it is a tension, and it is great that they are so enthusiastic that they want to get onto the landings. However, we need to make sure that they have got everything in what Phil would refer to as their "toolkit" before they go onto the landings.

Mr Wragg: I think that I would liken it to the theory of learning to drive a motor vehicle and then getting into the car with an instructor and being allowed to put it into practice.

Mr Frew: You talk about the toolkit analogy. I am a tradesman, an electrician, so an apprenticeship means a lot to me, and I believe that in any trade or any walk of life there has to be a certain apprenticeship served. That can be academic, in a classroom, and it can be out on-site, which is nearly as valuable as anything.

Ms S McAllister: Yes, but it is both.

Mr Frew: To be taught by people of the same profession, as opposed to a teacher even, can mean a lot.

Ms S McAllister: Yes, but of course all our tutors in the college who deliver that classroom training are prison officers as well. So, they are all practitioners.

Mr Frew: Right, OK. Being in the positions that you are in and knowing that you cannot change things overnight — Rome was not built in a day — do you see any blind spots between training and learning the profession or trade and what staff encounter on-site? Is there something new or unique that needs to be brought into training that you see as being a blind spot at present? I am not talking specifically about Northern Ireland prisons but globally.

Ms S McAllister: I think that the one thing for us, being a small service — we have talked about this a lot — is that we would like to be able to identify, probably at recruitment stage, which of the people who apply would be particularly good at working with young people, women or particular types of offenders. However, we must have the flexibility to deploy our prison officers across the estate. In an ideal world, we would like to skill people in a narrower field and give them a different type of training, but we are certainly not in the position to do that, given that we have only three establishments and we need to be able to deploy that flexibility. Other than that — would you —

Mr Adam: I would say that it is the context of the population with which you are working. Going into a group of young people or adults or of men at Magilligan or females is very different. We find that we almost learn by default that some people find one particular population much easier to interact with. If there were a way to give them more of that context as part of their training — you know, some very good people are great at working with quite aggressive prisoners, but put them in a group of young people, and they find that worse. They do not know how to manage them in the same style as they would have before and vice versa. You just think that the skill set is subtly different, and I think that we need to get cleverer about doing that, because we deploy some people who quickly say, "I don't like this; it is not for me", whereas they excel in other environments.

Mr Douglas: Thank you for your presentation so far. Like some other members, I was at Maghaberry recently. I know that it had the IT problem and the lockdown, so we did not get to see too many prisoners, although I met some on the previous couple of visits. If we are to go back, it would be good to meet some prisoners.

One of things that I have found over the past months, having been in Maghaberry a number of times, is that staff are doing a wonderful job under very difficult circumstances. I said at a previous meeting that the relationship between the staff and prisoners has been excellent. I was very surprised at how good it was. I am not saying that it is perfect, but it is much better than I had anticipated.

I mentioned to Phil the last time that some of the prisoners had said to me, "We are supposed to have five officers on a landing and sometimes there are only two." I think that you were getting 17 extra staff. Can you give us a wee update on that? One of the things that I mentioned to Phil was that, for me, the little foxes spoil the vine; I mean things like prisoners not getting a birthday or Father's Day card on time. Those things may not seem all that significant to us, but they have a huge and negative impact on prisoners. So can you give us a bit of an update on that?

Mr Wragg: Yes, Sammy, I am delighted to report that all the staff that we said were going to come on duty arrived. We still have a number of detached-duty staff in as well. We have 28 members of staff in addition to the numbers on the day that you visited.

Earlier, I talked about going back to basics. Visits and access to their mail, a telephone and a shower are clearly important for prisoners. We are able to profile the staff into the establishment across residential. The key essential to the establishment is being able to unlock prisoners and allow them to access those areas. What you identified to me on your visit is now in the process of being dealt with and eradicated. We are making sure that the mail is getting through in good time and that prisoners' access to those other areas that I have just talked about is now much better. The level of restricted regime or, indeed, lockdown, has been significantly reduced. It is now more often the case that prisoners are out of cell rather than behind the door.

Mr Douglas: Thanks very much. Sue, you mentioned mental health. A few years ago I was involved in compiling a report about prisoners who had, maybe, been in prison for years and had problems with mental health, prescription drugs, family breakdown, depression, alcoholism and many other things. I have a particular interest in people who self-harm or have suicidal thoughts. I want to ask Phil about his impression since he has come in of where things are at the moment in terms of supporting those people? I went into one of the cells and was shown the measures that are taken so that people cannot self-harm. That was very impressive, to be honest.

Mr Wragg: Yes. I am heartened by the way that the staff manage self-harm. They are quick to spot people who are what we term as being in crisis. That can mean someone who is suffering from anxiety because they have come into prison for the first time or are returning to prison, right the way through to what we describe as paranoid schizophrenia. The mental health of people who come in off the street is a big issue for us, and it is about being able to spot that. Very often, we are the first practitioners to be able to spot that early in the cycle of somebody coming to prison, and it is a concern. We are enhancing the listener scheme across the establishment to ensure that we have listeners who have been properly trained and supported by the Samaritans and that listeners have free access across the establishment 24 hours a day so that they can get to a prisoner who is in need or in crisis in a timely fashion and provide that level of care. We also provide prisoner access by telephone to the Samaritans.

Mr Douglas: Sue, you also mentioned constructive capacity in terms of helping people to prepare for eventual release and into employment. I want to ask you about employment in prison. One of the things that helped one of the prisoners I met was that he got a job as an orderly. I could see the difference in him. I had been to see him in Maghaberry, but I went to see him on Saturday in Magilligan. He had moved there but did not have a job. I could see that the buzz he had in there had dropped down. Is there a policy or some sort of plan in place when prisoners are transferred? As I said, it is the little foxes that spoil the vines.

Ms S McAllister: Absolutely. As you say, that ought to happen as part of their PDP. It is very difficult; the position of orderly is quite a prized position in Maghaberry, and it is quite difficult to insist that that person should be given the same job. It is a point very well made, Sammy; we should look at that and find a way of measuring that. At the very least, we should make sure that we explain it to prisoners. I have sat in on the initial interviews that prisoners at Magilligan get, and I do not think that we talk about when they might realistically expect to be able to get a job. Do you want to say anything else about that, Brian?

Mr McCaughey: Perhaps I could follow that up with you outside the meeting, Sammy. You made a point about employment and the change that it brings about in individuals who are serving prison sentences and heading towards release. Employment is one of the major factors in encouraging and promoting desistance from crime, even, as you said yourself, in the prison. I thoroughly recognise what you say about the difference in the individual in terms of self-worth, self-esteem and coping in prison. I will pick that matter up with you outside the meeting.

Mr Douglas: I will make this suggestion: I have visited Magilligan Prison over the years. I have not been there for a while, but one thing that struck me about the prison is that it is tired looking. I thought to myself, as I went in, that there were a couple of areas overgrown with weeds, for example, and I thought, "There is an opportunity for prisoners to be doing something; planting, outdoor work, that kind of thing.".

Ms S McAllister: You are singing our song.

Mr McCaughey: We could not agree more with you. That is why we have identified a lead in enterprise and employment. I want to look at every aspect of the prison and say, "What can we do? How can we create work for individuals, and how can we change the environment that we are living in?".

Ms S McAllister: You are absolutely right, Sammy; there is loads of space at Magilligan. We have already had conversations with food banks in the north-west and asked whether we could donate fresh food to food banks if we could grow it on the Magilligan site. It is much more difficult than you think to donate free food to a food bank, because there are issues about them taking fresh produce, but, that is what we need to do.

As you say, the buildings are tired, but, as we said before, we just need to let difficulties drive creativity and give the governor and the senior management team the permission to think differently and do some stuff that might not be traditional in prisoner employment.

Mr Douglas: When I was in Maghaberry, I could see some of the prisoners working outdoors over the summer. They were selling some of the plants and bushes and so on.

I have two quick points: I have heard some very good reports about Hydebank, and I am keen to go there. Finally, Phil, I think that somebody mentioned that you had a very difficult prison background. I just wanted to check: you were not part of the early release scheme, were you? [Laughter.]

You have a long tradition of working in prisons; is that right?

Mr Wragg: Yes.

Mr Douglas: You are not an ex-prisoner, that is what I am saying there. [Laughter.]

Mr Wragg: It is a very long tradition, yes. Too long, like you said. [Laughter.]

Mr Lynch: Back to you Brian. We talked about employability. The college is a good idea, as is offering training qualifications and capacity, but prisoners getting jobs when they get out is an issue. You mentioned communication with employers, because there can be a negative attitude when you go out with all the capacity and come up against barriers, being an ex-prisoner and having certain criminal offences. Where is that at, and have you continued that process?

Mr McCaughey: I will make a couple of points on that, Seán. First, on the outsourcing of our learning and skills, employability is on the curriculum in each and every one of the establishments. Prisoners can sign up for a course that will equip them with CV compilation, preparing for interviews and role-playing interviews. Additionally, the placement officers that we have appointed in light of NIACROs unsuccessful European Social Fund (ESF) bid are skilled in the area of disclosure of criminal convictions — what you put on an application form, how you handle it at an interview, how you explain what happened and why you believe you are the suitable person for the job. Those are the key things that we do.

In terms of spent or unspent convictions, that is not in my gift. We just equip people to know how to handle that offence and explain it at an interview.

Ms S McAllister: Brian is absolutely right, but we have said before that, as well as focusing on whether somebody has to disclose, what we should be doing is educating and communicating with employers, as you say. We have done that through the Employers' Forum for Reducing Re-offending, which is UK-wide, but we have also been making our own local arrangements. There is an appetite, because they understand that everything that we do is about building a safer Northern Ireland and the best way that we can support people not to reoffend is by helping them into employment. It is just about helping people on that journey.

Mr McCaughey: I think that it is the journey we make and the journey that Northern Ireland has to make. By and large, the employers I meet and talk to are content to employ the person who is best for the job. I think that that is the correct basis.

Mr Lynch: I know that it is early days, Brian, but, in overall terms, how will you judge success? Is it in the round?

Mr McCaughey: In terms of Hydebank?

Mr McCaughey: Ultimately, success has to be a safer Northern Ireland, which is about reducing reoffending amongst the current prisoner population.

Mr Lynch: Will you be documenting that in figures? I think that the Chair asked about that.

Mr McCaughey: That is one of the key priorities for the Department of Justice in terms of collating and collecting reoffending rates and measuring them year on year.

Ms S McAllister: We have not long had the 2010 figures, which, obviously, will be the baseline for devolved justice. We will then have annual figures that we can measure against that baseline.

Mr Lynch: You, Sue, mentioned progress in the joint Justice and Health strategy. Will you expand on that slightly?

Ms S McAllister: Yesterday, I met Hugh McCaughey, the chief executive of the South Eastern Trust, which is our healthcare partner. We both agreed that it has been a challenging relationship for all sorts of reasons. We have decided that we will spend half a day in November with half a dozen senior people from each organisation to identify what has gone well, what, crucially, has not gone well and what we need to do to sort it out and fix it. There is, clearly, an issue for the health trusts in terms of being able to recruit and retain staff to work in prisons. The retention rate has been low. Sometimes, the quality of the people whom they have been able to get and keep has not been right or it has been square pegs in round holes. That has been part of the challenge.

I think that Health and Justice colleagues would agree that there is still a lot more work to be done to achieve equivalence. Obviously, our aim is that you should get the equivalent quality of healthcare provision inside prison as you get in the community. We all know that offender health will probably never be a priority for the majority of the public, who are taxpayers. There are all sorts of competing priorities for Health, but we will continue to push. The important thing will be whether, if you are a patient in Maghaberry, Hydebank or Magilligan, you feel that you are getting the same level of health and social care provision as you would in the community.

Mr Lynch: What are the big problems with retention?

Ms S McAllister: It is a very challenging environment for healthcare professionals to work in, but they do not get any more money than they would if they were working in a nice healthcare centre in a middle-class area. We have done more work to induct them better. Also, the health trust is talking about rotating staff so that they know that they are coming into the prison environment only for a fixed period and they can then rotate back out.

Mr Lynch: I understand. We have been on the wings.

The Chairperson (Mr Ross): Nobody else has indicated that they want to ask any questions. Thank you all very much. It was a pretty comprehensive session. I suspect that we will see you again very soon.

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