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Northern Ireland prison officer mental health debate welcomed

8th June 2020

The Community trade union, which represents prison officers in the justice sector across Northern Ireland, has welcomed the debate on prison officer mental health taking place in the Northern Ireland Assembly on Tuesday 9 June.

The union had highlighted its concerns about the mental health of prison officers in Northern Ireland in its recent submission to the Pay Review Board. The Stormont debate has been called by Doug Beattie MLA.

Community wants an independent review of sickness absence procedures to reflect the particular roles, responsibilities and circumstances faced by prison officers in Northern Ireland. The union argues that the current procedure leads to the unfair treatment of prison officers who face additional mental health pressures due to the nature of their frontline roles.

Steve Farrell, Regional Secretary for Community, said:

“We are pleased that this debate has been called and we hope that Assembly Members will take the opportunity to consider the very real concerns we hear from our members. Prison officers in Northern Ireland can face some serious stress and mental health issues as a result of their work. It’s not right that the sickness policy that they are managed against does not reflect these particular circumstances. This is not a new situation and many of the issues highlighted in the Dr Jackie Bates-Gaston report from 2013 are still reflected in the everyday experiences of our members.

“We’ve heard from so many members and their families about the toll that can be taken on the mental health of prison officers and how they have had to adjust to the stresses of their employment. We appreciate them sharing their stories with us. But what we want to see now is some concrete action. We hope the debate called by Doug Beattie can be a positive first step to a better sickness policy for Northern Ireland’s prison officers. There needs to be some independent review and oversight of sickness absence in the Northern Ireland Prison Service and there is an urgent need for change.”



  1. Text of the motion by Doug Beattie MLA: Stress Experienced by Northern Ireland Prison Service staff That this Assembly notes the stress experienced by members of the Northern Ireland Prison Service in the course of their duties; calls on the Minister of Finance to ensure that the Northern Ireland Civil Service Human Resources policy on Inefficiency Sickness Absence Management takes into account the stress experienced by Northern Ireland Prison Service staff; and further calls on the Minister to cease the issuing of written warnings to members of the Northern Ireland Prison Service who are suffering from diagnosed mental health conditions and instead to manage the needs of these individuals through positive engagement and compassionate management which focuses on their needs.
  2. Further information on the Dr Jackie Bates-Gaston report on Northern Ireland prison officer mental health.

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