Prisons progress will continue-Long

Date published: 31 January 2022

Justice Minister, Naomi Long, has said the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) has demonstrated a willingness to learn, with new recommendations from Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland set to further improve our prisons.

Justice Minister Naomi Long pictured

Minister Long was responding to the publication of a review which she commissioned in November 2020, into the operation of Care and Supervision Units in Northern Ireland’s three prisons.

Minister Long said, “When I commissioned this review I wanted to ensure maximum public confidence in the treatment of people held in Care and Supervision Units.  While these units hold some of the most challenging and complex people, it is right that our prisons are held to the highest standard.

“In the last number of years, the Prison Service has shown a willingness to learn and a determination to drive improvement and this has been clearly demonstrated and recognised in previous inspections carried out in the recent past.

“I want to thank the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice NI and her team for their work.  This report sets some significant challenges, however by delivering its recommendations, the Prison Service will continue to improve the important services it delivers.”

Responding to the CJINI finding that some people have been held in what amounts to solitary confinement, the Director General of the Prison Service, Ronnie Armour said, “Parts of this report are difficult to read. We are committed to supporting those in our care and are continuously striving to improve the services we offer for some of the most challenging and complex people in Northern Ireland. 

“No matter how much progress we have made in prisons; no matter how well our staff have managed the pandemic, we can never be complacent. There is always room for improvement.

“While I accept the finding, I need to stipulate very clearly that no one is held within any of our prisons in severe degradation or isolation as the term ‘solitary confinement’ suggests. Every cell door is opened every day, on several occasions, and no-one goes without contact with staff or prison healthcare teams. But we can do better. And we will do better and we have already addressed the key findings in this report.

“It is important to state that today across our three prisons, no-one is being held in solitary confinement as described in this report.”

Mr Armour continued, “I welcome the recognition the report gives to the challenges we face in operating these units.  The Prison Service is often required to manage those that no-one else in society has been able to.  

“Their behaviours can be extremely challenging, and often dangerous, and we have no alternative but to house them within our CSUs for their own safety and the safety of others. 

“Sadly the reality is that some of those individuals have severe behavioural issues and some, as this report indicates, are sent to prison because there is nowhere else for them to go and we are left to pick up the pieces

“I also want to acknowledge the people working in our prisons, and particularly those working in these units.  They have kept people safe through two years of an unprecedented pandemic with only a handful of positive cases in the general prisoner population. 

“That should not be lost in the findings of this report.  I fully accept the recommendations from the Inspector and indeed have already ensured we are operating within the guidelines described in this report. We learn from our challenges as well as our successes.  And that is what we will continue to do.”

Notes to editors: 

  1. Media enquiries should be directed to the Department of Justice Press Office via email to:
  2. Follow the department on Twitter @Justice_NI
  3. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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