Cuts to jail buses endanger rehab

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A bus ferrying prisoners’ visiting loved ones from Londonderry to Maghaberry is under review, according to the Jail Minister David Ford.

However, the Minister said his Department should be able to maintain grant aid for the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NIACRO) service.

Notwithstanding this, several shorter prison bus services are likely to be scrapped.

“At this stage, it is likely that we will be able to continue to maintain grant aid to support NIACRO running buses on the longer runs - from Belfast to Magilligan and from the Derry area to Maghaberry - but, frankly, some of the shorter runs, given the use made of them, are not viable,” said the Minister.

NIACRO has hit out at ongoing cuts. The organisation argues prisoners who maintain strong family links whilst in jail are far less likely to reoffend and are far readier for successful resettlement.

But Mr Ford has warned: “We are looking at the Derry to Maghaberry service, for example. It still runs on two days a week, rather than three,” said Mr Ford.

“That may mean that some people will need to vary the times at which they go, but, faced with all the other cuts that are happening, I think that it is not unreasonable to accept that still providing that service on two days a week is a reasonable effort.

“As I highlighted, I certainly think that we also need to look at making better use of public transport: at meeting public transport rather than a NIACRO bus running the whole way.

“There were cases in which bus occupancy was below 40 per cent, and, in those circumstances, it seems not unreasonable to reduce the number of days per week on which they travel and have the buses fuller when they are running.”