Published Monday, 26 March 2012
Mr Ford gave an update on the reforms. (© UTV)
The figure was revealed by Justice Minister David Ford on Monday, as he updated MLAs at Stormont on the ongoing reform of the NIPS.
Over 150 staff are expected to leave the service at the end of this week under redundancy schemes, while there have been almost 5,000 applicants seeking jobs.
Mr Ford said successful negotiations have taken place between management and unions and an agreement reached on new working practices.
He described the reforms, which began following the publication of the Owers Report in October, as "unstoppable".
The minister said: "Central to the modernising of the service was securing an agreement on future working practices.
"Detailed and painstaking negotiations have taken place with the unions over the past several months leading to an agreement being reached in principle at the end of last week.
"Both management and the POA conducted themselves in a constructive and businesslike manner, and while coming at the issues from different perspectives, managed to reach an agreement which is not just in the best interests of the prison service, but NI."
The recruitment drive was launched last month, with new officers offered lower salaries starting at £18,000, rising to £23,000 after training.
The service says it is under-represented in the number of Catholics and women in the workforce, so applications from these groups will be "welcomed", however appointments will be on "the principle of merit".
Mr Ford said much has been achieved already but described the next six months as "crucial" for the service.
"The scale of the change programme currently underway in the Northern Ireland Prison Service should not be underestimated," the Alliance minister continued.
"It is highly complexed, comprises over 70 different activities and will in the next few years deal with every aspect of prison life.
"Over the last six months we have laid the foundations for fundamental reform. Some 151 staff will leave the service at the end of this week under the exit scheme and almost 5,000 applicants for the custody officer posts have been received.
"In the months ahead, I will be publishing a review of the Prison Service Estate Strategy, staff remaining in the service will undergo new training and later in the year, the first batch of new Custody Officers will be deployed to the establishments."
© UTV News