£95,000 per prisoner per year: reform is much needed to prisons

Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland logoIn Northern Ireland the price of housing one prisoner for one year is £95,000, according to a recent report*: the similar rate in England & Wales is on average £45,000.

The Cost Per Prisoner Place (costs relative to the number of available places for prisoners) is high – at £77,831 – significantly in excess of the comparable position in England and Wales (£45,000) and Scotland (£41,724). The current occupancy level across the three Northern Ireland prisons was 82% compared with 106% in Scotland and 113% in England and Wales. Given the occupancy level of 82% the actual cost per prisoner is significantly higher at £94,804.§

As the report states there are reasons why it should be much more here,

… much of the prison estate is inadequate and according to a number of inspection reports, is not fit-for-purpose. The high security focus of Maghaberry Prison for example – Northern Ireland’s committal prison – means that a wide range of prisoners (remand, fine defaulters, short sentence, life sentence prisoners) are held in maximum security conditions. The decision to separate paramilitary prisoners incurs additional costs. Furthermore, the small scale of the Prison Service and its estate in Northern Ireland means that it does not benefit from economies of scale enjoyed by larger organisations. In addition, the ratio of staff to prisoners in Northern Ireland is almost two and a half times that of England and Wales and prison officers here are paid on average a third more.†

David Ford MLA, Northern Ireland's Minister for Justice

However, there must be reform – and in this time of austerity, reform must include cutting the cost of the Prison Service. This does present many problems that Northern Ireland’s Minister of Justice, David Ford, and his Department will have to face.

Speaking yesterday, Justice Minister David Ford, said:

Our prison system developed in response to the issues of another day, and while society has changed, and society’s expectations of the Prison Service have changed, the Service itself has not kept pace with those changes

It is important that prisoners in this part of the United Kingdom are treated in the same manner as prisoners elsewhere. Equally, I should have thought that Prison Officers in England and Wales should wonder why they are paid less than their counterparts in Northern Ireland.

A fellow Liberal Democrat, Michael Gradwell writes,

It costs £41 000 to keep a prisoner in prison for a year. Just imagine if that person was in prison for theft, the chances are that we would be paying more to keep the thief in prison than the amount that was stolen, and this is just the cost of prison. Add on to that the cost of the policing and the judicial system and you soon realise that the real losers are us. There must be so many other costs associated with prisoner rehabilitation and that should be a major goal for prisons otherwise we are paying out a lot of money on prisoners that will come back if they don’t mend their ways. What could you do for them with all that money?‡

I’m sure that we could equally better serve the prisoners in Northern Ireland if the Northern Ireland Prison Service were to look to working towards the rehabilitation of prisoners and not just the security and custody of them. As with many law enforcement agencies in Northern Ireland, the Prison Service is having to change. Change as a result of society moving on from a period of severe disturbance and unrest to one of relative normality. This should be reflected by Prison Officers

…[modelling] behaviour that we would like prisoners to adopt should not be underestimated. They include the core values and qualities such as responsibility, co-operation and compassion.⁁

We can only hope that all within the Prison Service, and those responsible for it at Stormont,  will work towards this end.

Footnotes
* Northern Ireland Prison Service Corporate Governance Arrangements: An Inspection of corporate governance arrangements within the Northern Ireland Prison Service, Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland, Belfast, December 2010, viewed 15 December 2010, <http://www.cjini.org/CMSPages/GetFile.aspx?guid=3ddfc1cc-64b9-43da-ad86-88950db136ee&gt;
§ op. cit., p. 5, section 1.10.
loc. cit., section 1.11
‡ M. Gradwell, ‘Innocent till proven guilty’, in Politics for Novices, viewed 15 December 2010, <http://politicsfornovices.blogspot.com/2010/12/innocent-till-proven-guilty.html&gt;
⁁ NI Prisons Minister (Paul Goggins MP, November 2008), in Northern Ireland Prison Service Corporate Governance Arrangements, p. 37, section 4.2.

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