05/08/2010

'Support' Call Follows Hydebank Death

The death of a 19-year-old man in custody at Hydebank Wood Young Offenders Centre has highlighted calls for change.

Allyn Baxter, who was being held on remand, had tried to take his own life on Saturday night and was taken to hospital, but died on Wednesday afternoon.

A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Prison Service confirmed the death: "The next of kin, the PSNI and the coroner have been informed - while, in line with standard procedure, the Prisoner Ombudsman has commenced an investigation in the circumstances surrounding the death."

In response to the tragedy, Stormont Justice Committee member and SDLP MLA for South Belfast, Conall McDevitt, (pictured above) said it was essential to ensure vulnerable boys and young men were identified and supported.

"Too many boys and young men detained at Hydebank are also suffering from various degrees of mental illness," he said.

"The resources are not in place to provide these at risk young people with the support they need whilst in detention.

"There is an urgent need for the Executive to develop much stronger polices to address the incidence of mental health problems in the criminal justice system."

Mr McDevitt was also critical of the system by which a large number of those remanded at Hydebank had not yet been convicted of any crime.
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The SDLP representative has now proposed that Stormont's Justice Committee look into establishing a joint committee with the Health Committee to address the issue.

Sinn Fein's Martina Anderson has also called for a full review after the death: "Firstly our thoughts are with the family of this man following their tragic loss," she said, continuing that "the Prison Service here is in serious crisis".

"Despite there being 10 suicides over eight years, a history of alcoholism within the jails, a severe lack of care and a culture of apathy from staff towards reform there remains an urgent need for the review of accountability mechanisms," she claimed.

"Failings within the prison system, including at Hydebank have been consistently exposed and highlighted by several, knowledgeable agencies including the Coroners service, by Prison Ombudsman, the Human Rights Commission, the Criminal Justice Inspectorate, and the Independent Monitoring Board, yet recommendations remain mostly unimplemented, warnings ignored and vulnerable prisoners die as a result.

"This latest tragedy must act as an urgent catalyst for the new Justice Minister to act on Prison reform," she said.

In April, the NI Justice Minister David Ford visited Hydebank Wood and said that he was determined to ensure that the process of reform would continue.

Speaking at the time he said: "I am aware that there are particular issues in relation to the management of juvenile offenders, and I will be playing close attention to developments in these important areas."

(BMcC/GK)

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