26/02/2003

Maghaberry has 'some way to go' says prison inspectorate

Maghaberry prison has "some way to go" to achieve a clean bill of health, according to the latest report from Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons.

Today's publication of the review, based on inspection was carried out in May 2002, carries with it some 170 recommendations and just under 40 examples of good practice.

Maghaberry scored well under the four basic tests of a healthy prison – safety, respect, purposeful activity and resettlement. However, while Chief Inspector Anne Owers said that progress had generally been made; "there was some way to go before it fully met with expectations."

The inspector recognised that Maghaberry had gone through a period of change following the closure of the Maze in 2000 and the resulting redistribution of staff. And among the many positives – including good educational resources and close staff/prisoner relationships – Maghaberry and other Northern Ireland prisons on the whole were found to be "well resourced and well staffed compared with those in England and Wales".

The report also found that: "The prison operated a policy of integrating all prisoners belonging to the many paramilitary groups. Integration also involved those charged with or convicted of sexual offences. This is commendable, and part of a healthy prison ethos."

However, the suicide prevention policy and practice was in "somewhat of a hiatus" at the time of the inspection and arrangements for life sentence prisoners were "unsatisfactory".

It added: "They [life prisoners] could spend all their increasingly long prison terms in one of the poorly-designed old houseblocks, simply moving from one landing to another. This did not encourage positive behaviour."

The Director General of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, Peter Russell, welcomed the report, saying it "acknowledges the progress that has been achieved at Maghaberry whilst taking a realistic view of challenges ahead".

Mr Russell said: "This inspection is an encouragement to continue improving. It was carried out over six months ago and since then we have not stood still. Many of the report’s recommendations have already been accepted and actioned and progress is well in hand with others.

‘The report highlights both what we are doing well and where there is room for improvement. The Chief Inspector’s report will greatly assist us in developing Maghaberry and focussing our efforts on the healthy prison agenda."

He said that the Prison Service was "changing" and was concentrating on resettlement and rehabilitation issues rather than security.

The last inspection of Maghaberry was conducted in May 1996.

(GMcG)

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