The first graduates of a University of Ulster tailor-made training programme for prison officers were recently presented with their certificates by Minister of Justice, David Ford.
The graduation ceremony, which took place in Castle Buildings at Stormont, marked the successful partnership between the University and the Northern Ireland Prison Service. Sixteen officers from all three prisons in Northern Ireland completed the Certificate in Restorative Practices or the Postgraduate Certificate in Restorative Practices.
The programme was delivered by staff from the School of Sociology and Applied Social Studies, with support from Dr Derick Wilson at the School of Education.
The aim of the course, which lasted 18 months, was to build on the knowledge and experience of officers in areas of conflict resolution and restorative outcomes within prisons.
School of Sociology lecturer, Tim Chapman, said: “The quality of the contact between prison officers and prisoners is a key factor in shaping rehabilitative outcomes of a prison sentence. At the University we are committed to supporting officers to enhance the quality of this relationship.”Successful students completed three modules - ‘Foundation Skills in Restorative Practices’, ‘Developing a Reflective Approach to Restorative Practices’ and a tailored module called, ‘The Restorative Prison’.
The idea for the training course came at a time when the Northern Ireland Prison Service was experiencing very high levels of public scrutiny.
Lecturer, Hugh Campbell, who also helped deliver the course, acknowledged the help of the Director General of the NI Prison Service, Robin Masefield, in supporting the initiative describing him as “always accessible, open and supportive to the University throughout this programme”.
He added that Dave Eagleson, former Governor of Maghaberry Prison, gave the restorative practices initiative “shape and inspiration and also undertook the course himself”.
This initiative is one strand of a developing relationship between the University and the Prison Service, other work includes; leadership development seminars, research into the role of a local prison officer and an education programme with long term prisoners.
A second cohort of 20 officers is being currently recruited by the Prison Service for the next programme which will begin in November 2010.