05/11/2015

Maghaberry Prison 'Unsafe' For Prisoners And Staff - Report

Maghaberry Prison in Lisburn is "unsafe" and "unstable" for prisoners and staff, according to a new report.

The report on an independent inspection, which was carried out in May this year, was jointly published by Brendan McGuigan, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland and Nick Hardwick, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons in England and Wales.

Significant failures were revealed in local leadership as well as an ineffective relationship with senior management within the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS).

Mr Hardwick said: "We had real concerns that if the issues identified in this report - which were brought to the attention of the prison leadership at a frank feedback session at the end of the inspection - were not addressed as a matter of urgency, serious disorder or loss of life could occur.

"The Chief Inspectors were also worried that a deliberate fire at Maghaberry's Erne House which had the potential to cause death or serious injury, had occurred in April, just weeks prior to the inspection.

"As a result the Chief Inspectors have recommended urgent action be taken to strengthen leadership and called for the circumstances and response to the fire to be subject to an independent review."

Highlighting some of the key findings of the inspection, the Chief Inspectors said more prisoners than before had reported feeling unsafe. Illegal and prescription drugs were also more widely available than in March 2012 when Maghaberry Prison was last inspected.

Staff absence was high which led to frequent and unpredictable disruption to the daily regime for many prisoners.
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Inspectors found substantial numbers of prisoners were spending long periods of time locked up in their cells, limiting access to education, showers, opportunities to make telephone calls to family and friends and carry out everyday domestic tasks.

Levels of assaults and rates of self-harm at Maghaberry Prison had increased and Inspectors were told a great deal of bullying and incidents of physical violence were going unreported.

Staff morale within the prison was described as 'low' at the time of the inspection with some staff members subject to credible threats.

"The risk and impact of threats and acts of intimidation cannot be seen in isolation from the challenges faced by the leadership and staff of the Prison Service in managing the separated units, which consumes a disproportionate amount of management attention," said Mr McGuigan.

"Giving preference to maintaining the regime for separated prisoners over every other area in the prison is unfair and has a negative impact on more than 900 men who make up the majority of the prison population."

He continued: "This position is untenable and a radical new approach is now required. To assist with this process we recommend that should it remain necessary to manage the separated units in this way, their location, management, and resources should be treated as stand alone to that of the main prison."

The Chief Inspectors also highlighted their concern around health care provision within Maghaberry which was impinging on the prison's ability to function effectively.

Mr Hardwick said: "Inspectors were very concerned that aspects of health care provision had deteriorated since the previous inspection. In our view it was falling short and not meeting the complex needs of the prison population."

The Chief Inspectors are calling for health care services to be urgently improved to ensure patient safety and requested that an action plan to address the concerns identified in the report be developed within one month by the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust in partnership with the Prison Service.

(CD)

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