Justice Minister Naomi Long is to commission a review of the measures in place to support prison officers who are experiencing work related stress.
Announcing what will be a short, focused review, Naomi Long said: “I am acutely aware of the challenging and unique role played by prison officers in Northern Ireland.
“They do outstanding work day and daily which is why, on each of my visits to our prisons, I took the time to speak to them about how they were feeling and about what support was available to them. I have discussed the importance of doing everything we can to support prison staff and build their resilience with the Director General and senior Governors. I have also listened carefully to my Assembly colleagues including Chris Lyttle and Doug Beattie who have written to me since I took up the Justice portfolio and have been strong advocates for prison officers.
“While I think the Service is doing much under the auspices of the Prisonswell Programme to support, prevent, assist and inform frontline officers in relation to health and wellbeing challenges they face, I want to be assured that what we are doing is sufficient and to consider if more needs to be done.
“Consequently, it is my intention to commission a focused review of the support mechanisms and procedures the Prison Service has in place to ascertain if there is more we could or should be doing to help our frontline staff. I recognise that it is important that we take appropriate action whilst balancing the need to exercise a rigorous, sensitive and proportionate approach to reducing sick absence.”
Naomi Long added: “The Northern Ireland Prison Service has changed greatly in recent years and positive relationships between staff and those in their care has been at the heart of that. Prison services in other jurisdictions are now looking at Northern Ireland as an exemplar of best practice. Just last year, their outstanding work on rehabilitation was recognised through an Excellence Award for the staff of Maghaberry from the International Corrections and Prisons Association.
“Recent inspection reports speak for themselves, with our prisons now assessed as much safer places and a reduction in the number of assaults on staff and in self-harm incidents. A more positive environment, which has been achieved through the outstanding work of our staff, means the Service can really challenge and support those in its care to change.
“Just this week, the inspection report published in relation to Hydebank Wood Secure College and Women’s Prison reflected on “the remarkable change” that has taken place there.
“I want again to pay tribute to all Prison Service staff for what they have achieved. I very much value their work and I want to, through this review, ensure they are receiving the support they need.”