Safety of prisoners an ongoing challenge for Prison Service and Trust

A new inspection by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) and the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) has found limited progress has been made in implementing recommendations to improve the safety of prisoners in Northern Ireland.

Speaking today (Wednesday 20 November 2019) after the findings of the latest report on the safety of prisoners were made public, the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland Brendan McGuigan said he was “frustrated” more had not been done in the five years since the last joint inspection report was published.

“Many of the people committed to prison arrive with significant diagnosed and undiagnosed health care needs and for those with mental health issues, personality disorders, drug or alcohol addiction or learning difficulties, imprisonment can be a time of great vulnerability,” said Mr McGuigan.

“In 2014 Inspectors made a number of recommendations to the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) and South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust (SEHSCT) to address the inter-linked areas of suicide, self-harm, bullying and violence reduction and the availability and access to illegal and prescription drugs.

“These recommendations were designed to ensure appropriate care and support was provided and that policies to help to protect and support those who are at risk, were strengthened.

“When Inspectors returned in 2018 we found that bullying remained a significant issue, and as a result have repeated our recommendation that the NIPS should as a priority, review its violence reduction and anti-bullying strategy and this work should be completed within six months.

“We welcome the steps taken by the NIPS to reduce the supply of drugs coming into prison but I believe more needs to be done jointly by the NIPS and SEHSCT to tackle prisoners’ access to illegal drugs and the diversion and abuse of prescription medication.

The Chief Inspector said that while at an operational level the partnership between the NIPS and SEHSCT had improved, difficulties at a strategic level had contributed to the slow pace of progress.

“We recommend the senior management teams of both organisations should immediately review their joint working and governance arrangements and agree an action plan to address key issues identified in this inspection, including the implementation of Death in Custody recommendations made by the Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland,” he said.

In conclusion Mr McGuigan welcomed work that is ongoing to increase family support for vulnerable prisoners.

“I acknowledge there have been a number of incidents where the prompt actions and interventions of staff have undoubtedly saved lives and that there are many committed and dedicated individuals who are working to ensure the prisoners within their care are kept safe and secure.

“We must never lose sight of the fact that prison does not offer a therapeutic environment for vulnerable individuals. Therefore, it is essential the NIPS and the SEHSCT continue to develop their partnership working, identify those really vulnerable prisoners committed to their care and address the underlying cause of that vulnerability.

Maintaining the safety of prisoners is a challenge and it remains one of the greatest areas of risk for the Prison Service,” he concluded.