Northern Ireland Prison Service boss defends ‘day out’ for killers in Mournes

Head of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, Ronnie Armour. Picture by Michael Cooper
Head of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, Ronnie Armour. Picture by Michael Cooper

The head of the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) has defended a ‘pre-release scheme’ after concerns were raised that convicted murderers had been given a “day out” in Newcastle in Co Down.

Ronnie Armour was responding to criticism from the UUP following the publication of photographs showing convicted murderers on a ‘recreational visit’ in Newcastle by the Sunday World newspaper.

UUP Mournes councillor Jill Macauley said: “I am very concerned that violent criminals are treated to a day out in Newcastle and the Mournes area, allowing them to walk freely alongside unsuspecting members of the public and children.”

However, Mr Armour, the head of the NIPS, said: “While it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the circumstances of individual prisoners, the Prison Service is responsible for keeping people securely and we take that responsibility very seriously. As well as keeping people securely, we are also required to test people before they are released back into the community.

“We test people in line with recommendations from the Parole Commissioners for Northern Ireland on what we call a pre-release scheme. The scheme allows prisoners to be tested incrementally, firstly within the prison and then on a three-phase programme.

“This is a challenging programme during which individual prisoners are subject to ongoing risk assessments and review. While many prisoners successfully complete this programme, a small number will fail and demonstrate they are not ready for release.”

Mr Armour added: “We have a responsibility to ensure when we release someone back into the community they are given the best possible chance to live normal lives.”