CAJ report on NI prisons system

By Vincent Kearney
BBC NI home affairs correspondent


The prison system in Northern Ireland is in a "state of crisis" and in need of "urgent reform" according to a new report.

The Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ) report said it had doubts over the prison system's effectiveness.

Since 2002 there have been 40 reports on the NI prison system, and the prison service is currently monitoring over 1200 recommendations.

The prison service plans to consolidate the recommendations into a masterplan.

Dr Jacqueline Monahan, who wrote the report, said the number of reviews and recommendations and their similarities, suggested a failure to recognise the problems that needed to be addressed.

"The prison system in NI is broken and requires urgent fundamental and cultural reform," she said.

"The approach to prison reform to date has been haphazard, piecemeal and can be compared to putting a sticking plaster on an ever-growing wound.

"Efforts in the past have looked at the symptoms of the failure, not the causes," Dr Monahan added.

Reform of the prison service has been identified as a policy priority by Justice Minister David Ford, who said he had appointed a team to carry out a review.

"I am determined that when the review team reports to me early next year, I will see that those changes are driven through within the prison service," Mr Ford said.

The team is expected to present its recommendations in 2011, but Dr Monahan said the CAJ remains unconvinced the review would go far enough.

"We are concerned that the review team should not continue with a piecemeal approach but go back to first principles of what the purpose of our prison service should be," she said.

Having made prison reform a priority, David Ford knows that the blame for any failure to deliver will in future rest with him.