THE Northern Ireland Prison Service has spent more than £9.5 million in overtime since 2009. The payments, which have risen year on year, equate to more than £183,ooo a week on average.
Some prison officers have increased their annual salary by up to £16,ooo by working additional hours. Finlay Spratt, chairman of the Prison Officers ‘ Association in the north, said : ” These figures clearly demonstrate that the staffing levels across the Northern Ireland Prison Service are far too low. ” They are paying overtime but, speaking as a trade unionist, they should be cutting out on overtime and recruiting more staff. ” But it’s cheaper to pay the overtime. ” Let’s be honest – nobody in the current economic climate is going to say no to a bit of extra cash. ” They are not objecting to overtime but I, as a trade unionist, am – I think they should be getting more people into employment.”
The figures were released under freedom-of-information legislation. They show that since 2009, staff at the high-security Maghaberry jail in Co Antrim, where murdered prison officer David Black was employed, worked the most overtime. A total of £5.6m was paid out – almost four times more than any other facility. Payments peaked last year when £1.7m was spent between March and October. Until recently more than 40 dissident republicans at Roe House in Maghaberry were engaged in a dirty protest which involved mixing urine and excrement and spreading it on cell walls. The protest over strip searches was called off last month. The Department of Justice said overtime was a normal aspect of running a 24-hour-a-day ‘ business ‘. ” This analysis shows that additional hours are worked by staff across NIPS but particularly in the three prisons and the Prisoner Escort and Court Custody Service,” it said. ” This approach has been in place over many years and is a normal aspect of running a 24/7 operational business.”
Workers at Magilligan prison in Co Derry were paid £1.3m in overtime since March 2009. At Hydebank Wood which accommodates women and young offenders, the overtime bill reached £1.2m. The Prisoner Escort and Court Custody Service generated an overtime bill of £2.7m during the same period. There are 1,591 prison officers in the north. In February the prison service launched its first recruitment drive in 20 years. The first tranche of 20 custody officers earning £18,000 a year started work in October. A further 140 recruits are expected to start work in the coming weeks. SDLP assembly member Patsy McGlone, who sits on the justice committee, at Stormont, said prison management might need to reassess how resources were deployed. “Having been to Maghaberry on a number of occasions it never ceases to amaze me how many prison officers it takes to escort a prisoner,” he said. ” I understand some of these guys are high-risk but it does puzzle me as to why, as I have seen, it takes five prison officers to escort a prisoner. ” If overtime is being spent unnecessarily it really has to be looked at again.”
WITH MANY THANKS TO : LESLEY- ANNE McKEOWN, IRISH NEWS.