Justice Minister David Ford’s statement on Prison Estate future
JUSTICE Minister David Ford has finally confirmed the long-term future of Magilligan Prison in a Statement to the Stormont Assembly. Here, the Sentinel has published the Minister’s statement on the future of the Northern Ireland Prison Estate.
“The Prison Review Team, in their review of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, outlined the premise that prisoners can develop and change provided they are given the opportunity to do so. It also set out the fundamental characteristics of an effective prison system that supports change and promotes desistance from crime.
“The development of the prison estate presents an opportunity to create an environment which will promote change and rehabilitation, reduce risk, and enhance public safety while providing accommodation that is fit for purpose; and provides value for money. The prison estate which we build now will be our prison estate for the next 50 to 100 years.
“It is essential that we get it right. That is why I wanted to ensure that all responses to the proposals contained within the Outline Estate Strategy, which was published for consultation last year, were properly considered and evaluated before making any final decisions.
“In my interim statement to this Assembly in November last year, I announced a number of key decisions in respect of the prison estate and I committed to returning to the House to update members on my final decisions around provision for young offenders and women offenders; and the shape of the adult male estate, including a definitive statement on the future of Magilligan Prison.
“Today, I am pleased to be able to bring that update to the House. I would like to take the opportunity to recognise the value that our key partners and stakeholders have brought to the development of the Estate Strategy.
“I would like to thank officials in NIPS for their dedication and commitment to developing a strategy for the future and thank our partners in the statutory, community and voluntary sectors for their valuable contribution to the consultation process.
“I would also like to recognise the positive approach to partnership working that has been demonstrated by local councils and business representatives in the north-west, all of which has helped to inform my decisions.”
“With regard to young offenders, the Prison Review Team was clear that while they may be prone to prolific offending and re-offending, they are also capable of change and redirection. Experience has shown a strong correlation between offending behaviour in young people and issues such as poor literacy, language or numeracy skills, or a history of unemployment.
“Addressing the level of educational need amongst this group of offenders is essential if we are to improve a young offender’s chance of rehabilitation and employment upon release.
“That is why, in November of last year, I outlined my commitment to the reconfiguration of Hydebank Wood as a secure college offering young offenders a full programme of skills based activities to better support rehabilitation and desistance.
“Building on the vision of the Prison Review Team, my officials, with support from colleagues in the Department of Employment and Learning, have produced a concept development paper which defines the secure college model in more detail and identifies how this can best be achieved.
“Work to improve the physical environment at Hydebank Wood and to make the environment more conducive to learning, has already commenced. New windows, furniture and fittings have been installed and it is estimated that further improvements will be completed over the next six to 12 months. However, the secure college approach is more than just bricks and mortar. It is about raising the value placed on learning and skills and changing attitudes towards offender management through positive engagement and interaction.
“This new approach will enhance current multi-disciplinary and multi-agency working arrangements and will see dedicated, committed, and fully trained staff, with the capacity to offer one to one interventions where needed, working with young offenders to support and encourage learning and development. “Central to this will be the introduction of new, professionally qualified Custody Officers, the up-skilling of existing staff, and the implementation of new and improved procedures to ensure that the individual needs of young offenders are identified and met. Engagement with statutory, voluntary and community services that can support young men on release from custody will also be routine.
“At the heart of the secure college approach will be the introduction of a revised learning and skills curriculum which will focus on providing essential skills, including literacy, numeracy and ICT; as well as life skills; employability skills; vocational training and recreational services. Consultation with Trade Unions and other key stakeholders is ongoing and it is anticipated that the new curriculum will be introduced in 2014.
“I am also pleased to announce that Paul Norbury, a Governor with extensive experience working within the National Offender Management Service will take up his appointment as Governor of Hydebank Wood in April and will provide the necessary leadership and inspiration to deliver the secure college model.
“My officials, in partnership with the Probation Board have also been exploring what additional support and services might be put in place to manage young offenders in the community to enable them to benefit from multi-agency co-ordinated services to contribute to their successful resettlement.
“PBNI has reviewed models of best practice for a multi-agency approach for young offenders and has identified the resources which will be required for delivery; the potential target offender group; geographical location; and potential stakeholders. I hope to be in a position to launch a pilot scheme in the coming months.
“I have said before that prison should only be used when it is absolutely necessary, and for the most serious and violent offenders. This is particularly true for women offenders. As a group, women offenders present low levels of risk but high levels of vulnerability that the justice system is not well placed to manage, particularly in relation to mental health, substance misuse and previous abuse.
“There is broad agreement that there should be significantly fewer women in custody and that it is far more effective to support women in the community to address the many complex issues associated with their offending behaviour.
“Work to refresh the women’s strategy and put in place new actions aimed at reducing offending among women and diverting women away from custody is well advanced. This work has been shaped by engagement with a range of stakeholders, including women in the justice system, and my officials will continue to work with partners in the statutory, community, and voluntary sectors to further develop and enhance existing supports and services.
“The PBNI led Inspire model, widely praised for its innovative, flexible and dynamic approach to reducing women’s offending through targeted community based interventions, is now well established in the Greater Belfast area.
“It has also been successfully rolled out to mid Ulster and the Northwest probation areas and plans are in place to extend its reach to Ballymena and North Antrim during 2013/14.
“I want to make the Inspire model available across all of Northern Ireland so that this women-centred, community-based approach becomes the norm when dealing with women’s offending.
“For some women secure custody will be the only proportionate response but I have been consistently clear that the existing arrangements for women prisoners are not appropriate. This view, which is widely shared by stakeholders, was reinforced during the full inspection of Hydebank Wood which took place in February.
“That is why I have committed to establishing a new, separate facility for women offenders combining both custodial provision for those women requiring secure custody, and facilities for those women for whom a community based approach is more appropriate. My officials, working with colleagues in PBNI, are in the process of developing options in terms of shape and size, and a number of options for the location of the new facility, including three areas on the existing Hydebank Wood site, are being considered. Subject to the approval of business cases and funding being made available, it is envisaged that a new facility for women offenders could be established as early as 2018.
“In a more recent development, I have been made aware that Probation intend to vacate Alderwood House, located in the grounds of Hydebank Wood. This presents an ideal opportunity to provide step down accommodation for women prisoners who have been assessed as suitable for working in the community and I have asked my officials to consider, as a matter of urgency, what future use might be made of this site.
“Progress has been made, but more needs to be done to identify the work that would be required to bring the building up to the required standard. The existing building would provide accommodation for up to six women subject to planning permission. A design team has been asked to consider options to extend the building or to build additional accommodation on the adjacent land.
“Last month, I officially opened a new 120 cell accommodation block, Quoile House, at Maghaberry Prison. The opening of Quoile House marks the beginning of a new approach to the development of the prison estate and is consistent with the strategic aims of NIPS to provide safe, secure, accommodation, to reform and modernise the Service, and to reduce the risk of re-offending.
OVERCROWDING AT MAGHABERRY...
“Alongside the aim of creating an environment that encourages positive change by offenders, the estate strategy recognises that there is a priority need to address the issues of overcrowding at Maghaberry. Good progress is being made toward the development of an additional 360 cell accommodation block. It is anticipated that construction of the new block will commence in late 2014.
“The creation of this additional accommodation will not only ease accommodation pressures and lead us closer to the goal of reducing shared accommodation. It will enable NIPS to implement, on a phased basis, my earlier commitment to reconfiguring Maghaberry Prison into three discrete areas – for remand prisoners, low to medium-security sentenced prisoners and prisoners requiring high-security accommodation - with appropriate support, regimes and security for each.
“I believe that by moving towards a culture which relies more on dynamic security and less on physical security measures we can develop a security regime which is proportionate to the risk presented. It will also help facilitate the delivery of better tailored regimes to specific groups of prisoners and reinforce work to rehabilitate offenders.
“The remand area will focus on the safe and effective committal and assessment of offenders; the provision of short or modular interventions, courses, work and programmes; and practical resettlement initiatives with considerable external support. Some of the existing facilities at Maghaberry will provide accommodation for low to medium-security sentenced prisoners and we will continue to provide step down facilities for life sentence prisoners.
“It also remains my intention to create a discrete high security facility which will include provision for both separated prisoners and prisoners from the integrated population requiring high security. Work to convert the existing accommodation at Bush and Roe Houses to a high security facility will commence in early 2015.
“This will enable the Prison Service to deliver a regime appropriate to the prisoners held there, while allowing the remainder of the prison to develop a more dynamic regime - with appropriate staffing arrangements - which meets the needs of those prisoners not requiring the highest levels of security.
“It is well established that maintaining family contact is an integral part of effective resettlement. It helps prevent re-offending and contributes to the reduction of inter-generational offending. The existing visits facility at Maghaberry is not fit for purpose.
“I have asked officials in consider options for a replacement visits facility which will be more conducive to addressing and maintaining family links. Subject to the availability of funding, this work will commence in late 2015. In the meantime, plans are in place to commence work to refurbish the existing visits area at Maghaberry. This will provide families with a more positive visiting experience and encourage family contact.
“The Prison Review Team observed that the closure of the prisoner assessment unit left an important gap in custodial provision. In recognition of the importance of managing the difficult transition between prison and community, particularly for prisoners who have served long sentences, I indicated my intention to redevelop the prisoner assessment unit located on the Crumlin Road as a working out unit for prisoners approaching the end of their sentence.
“As an interim solution, a business case for the refurbishment of the existing site is nearing completion. Subject to approval of this business case, work will commence later this year. I intend to review this provision after a year, at which time I will, if I deem it necessary, consider options for a rebuild on the existing site.
WITH REGARD TO MAGILLIGAN...
“With regard to Magilligan Prison, I have been consistently clear that my decision regarding its future needs to be based on what is best for the people of Northern Ireland in terms of enhancing public safety through reducing offending.
“In November I indicated that I was inclined towards retaining a prison on the Magilligan site, subject to evidence being provided that issues concerning rehabilitation and family links could be adequately addressed. Over the last few months, officials in NIPS have been continuing to engage with a range of stakeholders on this issue and have been working with local councils and business representatives from the North West to consider how Magilligan could be used in a different way to overcome the challenges posed by its remote location.
“A ‘Councillors’ Forum’ has been established and a number of workshops, to help identify work and training opportunities in the community for prisoners, have taken place.
“A number of factors, including the responses to the consultation and engagement with the local councils, have helped shape my thinking and I now consider that there is a case for the retention of Magilligan. However, much of Magilligan is no longer fit for purpose and has outlived its useful economic life. To that end, my officials have engaged with a number of professional service providers to consider the options for a replacement prison on the existing Magilligan site.
“They are aimed at delivering a range of fit for purpose, flexible, accommodation which promotes staff and prisoner safety; encourages access to education and activities; and encourages and supports rehabilitation. A number of high level design concepts are being considered.
“These include the option for a phased redevelopment which will allow the prison to remain open and operate as normal during construction. It is envisaged that key elements of the redevelopment will include: the replacement of the H Blocks and other ageing facilities, the development of a central activities block, a new entrance building and welcome centre and a new energy centre. There will also be the creation of a number of Independent Living Units for prisoners nearing the end of their sentence, which will encourage prisoners to take responsibility for their day to day routine.
“Subject to funding, it is anticipated that the phased redevelopment of Magilligan Prison will be completed by 2020. In the immediate term, essential refurbishment and maintenance work will be carried out to ensure that Magilligan meets the minimum standards of safe, decent and secure custody.
“In summary, I am, today, outlining to members of this Assembly my commitment to bringing forward, over the next 10 years: the reconfiguration of Hydebank Wood as a secure college;
the provision of a separate, dedicated facility for women offenders which provides both custodial and community services; the reconfiguration of Maghaberry prison, including the development of a new accommodation block and high security facility; the development of a working out unit on the site of the former prisoner assessment unit, and the phased redevelopment of Magilligan Prison on the existing prison site..
“The majority of the expenditure on the extensive capital investment programme required by the Estate Strategy will fall outside the current Budget 2011-15 period, so the full implementation of the Strategy will be dependent upon the level of funding in future Budget allocations. Although it is difficult to quantify at this stage, it is estimated that the total cost of the long term redevelopment of the prison estate could approach £202 million.
“However, it is important to stress that all of the projects will be designed and built with a view to maximising the efficient and effective use of both staff and facilities and will, in the long term, result in significant resource savings for the Prison Service.
“I would like to thank all who have worked to develop this strategy for the future prison estate and to deliver the achievements to date - colleagues within the statutory, voluntary, and community sectors who, like me, have a shared vision of a fair Justice system, an effective Justice system, and a safer Northern Ireland.”
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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