Published Friday, 06 July 2012
The report found that lifers were being well managed in and out of prison. (© UTV)
The report found that the management, testing and assessment of life sentence prisoners had improved across a number of areas.
Deputy Chief Inspector Brendan McGuigan said that protecting the public must be at the forefront of any decision to release life sentence prisoners.
"It is vital that they are subject to thorough assessment and testing before they can be considered for release as they have been convicted of the most serious offences," he said.
"Since our inspection in 2009, we have found that significant progress has been made in the management of indeterminate sentenced prisoners.
He said the Probation Board for Northern Ireland (PBNI) and the Parole Commissioners for Northern Ireland have developed comprehensive protocol to guide the process of granting parole.
"The Parole Commissioner's administration and contact with criminal justice agencies have improved, which has led to better case management," he added.
Justice Minister David Ford said: "I am pleased that, on the whole, Inspectors found that the arrangements for working with life and indeterminate sentenced prisoners to reduce their risk of offending and support their return to the community are being well managed."
The inspection also found that life licensees were being carefully supervised in the community by the PBNI and that the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) had improved their response in several respects.
These included provision of a dedicated lifer house at Maghaberry Prison and better arrangements for indeterminate sentence prisoners to progress and regress within the prison system.
This is a good example of the type of work that can be done to encourage and support the rehabilitation of offenders and provides a good platform from which further improvements can be made.
"I welcome the progress noted within the report to enhance the provision within custody and the assessment that those on life licences are being carefully managed in the community by the Probation Board," Mr Ford added.
The report says there are key areas in need of improvement to ensure public protection and confidence in the criminal justice system.
It makes three strategic recommendations for improvement, namely for the NIPS and others to urgently establish a new 'step-down facility' for lifers to be released from prison, to reconfigure the roles of the PBNI and the NIPS psychology services and to improve delivery of Offending Behaviour Programmes (OBPs) in the prisons.
Mr McGuigan said the continuing suspension of the NIPS Prisoner Assessment Unit is a major problem and a new pre-release scheme needed developed as a matter of urgency.
"This is a very important element of preparing prisoners for release and we recommend that the scheme should be based at a new step-down facility. When designing the scheme the NIPS should consult closely with the PBNI and the voluntary organisations which have experience in running offender hostels," he said.
He said these moves should significantly enhance the quality of risk management and prisoner resettlement and deliver financial savings.
Max Murray, Director of Offender Services also welcomed the findings which he said reflected the hard work undertaken to develop the arrangements for the management of life sentence prisoners.