Prison staff need more help and support tackling reoffending says chief inspector of criminal justice Brendan McGuigan
Prison staff in Northern Ireland need more "help and support" if they are to make a real impact on reoffending, a watchdog has said.
That will require the "fulsome" involvement of trained, experienced probation staff working alongside prison officers, not just with the most serious offenders, chief inspector of criminal justice Brendan McGuigan added.
He said while the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) and its partner the Probation Board for Northern Ireland (PBNI) had much to be proud of, and significant progress had been made, there was still more work to do.
Mr McGuigan said: "The current delivery model for resettlement has made significant progress and this is evidenced by our individual prison inspections.
"However, it is clear from this report that prison staff need more help and support if we are to lift resettlement to the next level and make a real impact on reoffending."
Reoffending rates for short-sentenced prisoners were substantially higher than the average, and in Northern Ireland adults serving less than 12 months had a reoffending rate of 45.8 per cent, the Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland report on prison resettlement said.
Mr McGuigan said the complex needs of the prison population demand the continuing and increased involvement of the voluntary and community sector organisations, whose work within prisons was "exceptional".
Since 2011 a structured framework with individual prisoner focus, to identify and assess a prisoner's risks, needs and strengths, has been developed.
A Prisoner Development Plan (PDP) was developed with the prisoner to support his/her resettlement back into the community.
This defined the purpose of work, actions taken and support provided for an individual to: reduce their risk of harm; reduce their likelihood of reoffending; and prepare them for return to the community, the inspectorate report said.
It said changed working practices had reduced joint working between the prison service and probation and impacted on the operational delivery of the model, and inspectors were concerned that it was not operating as effectively as it could.
"Working practices between the NIPS and the PBNI needed to adapt to address prisoner need and increase the effectiveness of joint delivery," the report said.
There were significant resources deployed to provide resettlement services for prisoners.
The report said: "The NIPS, PBNI and Voluntary and Community Sector staff worked hard to provide support, sometimes for very difficult prisoners, many of whom had complex and multiple needs.
"Inspectors were impressed by the attitude, knowledge and commitment of many of the prison and probation officers and VCS staff that we met during the inspection."
There was an effective system to measure resettlement processes and activities, but measurement of the impact of these on outcomes for prisoners was less well developed.
Inspectors said programmes should be delivered on the basis of need, with suitable interventions for short-term prisoners, a streamlined process for referral and assessment, and the ability to fast-track and prioritise prolific offenders.
The report made nine recommendations.
Head of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, Ronnie Armour, said the service existed to help create a safe community where people respected the law and each other; challenging offenders and supporting them in changing by giving them the skills they needed to resettle back into the community.
He added: "There will always be more that we can and should be doing and, with that in mind, we in the Prison Service are committed to a programme of continuous improvement with services to aid resettlement at the heart of that."
Paul Doran, director of rehabilitation at the Probation Board for Northern Ireland, said resettlement was a key element in reducing the risk of reoffending.
"In particular, we welcome the recognition that significant progress has been made following the introduction of the Prisoner Development Model.
"Work will continue to implement the recommendations in today's report with both the Probation Board, and our colleagues in the Prison Service committed to working in partnership to that end."
Mr Armour said: "The recommendations in today's report will be integrated into our programme of continuous improvement, Prisons 2020.
"This will ensure that the services provided by the Prison Service continue to develop and evolve to meet the changing needs of those in our care in the future."