New inspection process finds more work required to improve outcomes for prisoners

The first Independent Reviews of Progress (IRPs) carried out by Inspectors at Maghaberry Prison and Magilligan Prison have found that while progress had been made, there remained much to do to address priority and key concerns identified at recent unannounced inspections to improve outcomes for prisoners.
IRPs follow up on recommendations made or concerns stated in unannounced prison inspection reports. 
Inspection Teams from Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI), His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons in England and Wales (HMI Prisons), the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) and the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) undertook the IRPs in October and November 2023.
Progress against all 12 areas of concern identified during the 2022 unannounced inspection of Maghaberry Prison and 14 of the recommendations in the 2021 inspection report on Magilligan Prison were followed up by Inspectors.
“When I published the Magilligan and Maghaberry prison inspection reports I said that it was my intention to effectively monitor the steps taken by the Northern Ireland Prison Service and its health care and education and skills partners from the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust and Belfast Metropolitan College to address the concerns Inspectors had highlighted,” said Jacqui Durkin, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland (CJI).
“We expect that leaders within the Northern Ireland Prison Service, the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust and Belfast Metropolitan College use inspection findings, recommendations and reported concerns to drive continuous improvements in outcomes for prisoners from when they have considered our draft inspection report rather than increase activity in the mouth of an anticipated unannounced inspection.  Given the size of the prison estate in Northern Ireland and the required frequency of prison inspections, the element of surprise in an unannounced inspection is limited,” said Jacqui Durkin and Charlie Taylor, His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons in England and Wales.
“An IRP, therefore, gives some assurance of how seriously prison leaders are gripping concerns and the action taken or which needs to start to address them.  This new approach has provided an opportunity to provide swifter assurance that concerns are being addressed and identify areas where a greater focus is needed.
“Overall, we judged that Maghaberry Prison had made reasonably good progress against the concerns identified during our visit in 2022, but we were disappointed that more progress had not been made at Magilligan Prison, particularly given that it had been over two years since the last full inspection there,” said the Chief Inspectors.
At Maghaberry Prison, Inspectors assessed that there was reasonable progress against nine concerns, insufficient progress against two and no meaningful progress in one area.
“Maghaberry had introduced a robust early learning process to learn from serious incidents and prisoners now had more regular and consistent access to education, skills and work activities.  The installation of body scanners and reintroduction of mandatory drug testing had helped reduce the level of drugs and other contraband being smuggled into the prison, but leaders did not yet have a co-ordinated plan to tackle this issue and there remained a problem with illicit substances including with the trade and abuse of medication.  We were concerned that, despite some steps being taken to improve the approach to adult safeguarding, there had not been effective collaboration between prison and health care leaders and we found cases where the approach to safeguarding was not effective.  There needed to be urgent action to address this important issue.  Much also remained to be done to support prisoner rehabilitation and planning for their release,” stated Ms Durkin and Mr Taylor.
“At Magilligan Prison progress was more mixed.  We found there had been either good or reasonable progress made against half of the recommendations being followed up and insufficient progress or no meaningful progress in the remaining seven areas.  This was a concern.  
“Progress in addressing the key concern related to illicit substances had been too slow and, while there had been improvements in the complaints process, formal consultation with prisoners remained poor and little had been done to address poor perceptions of staff victimisation which was a recommendation we first made in 2017.  Effective systems were now in place to improve cleanliness and the Prisoner Development Unit was operating better than during our last visit.  Progress had been made against recommendations related to the delivery of education provision but much more needed to be done.
“Magilligan has the potential to be a model establishment but in our view the Governor and leaders in the Northern Ireland Prison Service needed to address recommendations with greater vigour and be more robust in their assessment of how outcomes for prisoners were being improved,” the Chief Inspectors commented.
“We do not underestimate the challenges faced by leaders in the Northern Ireland Prison Service and its service partners, particularly with the current prison population numbers and resource challenges to drive improvement, and it was evident that leaders, managers and staff had taken some steps to respond to the respective inspection findings.  However, ambition and action are needed to support prisoners leaving custody healthier, more employable, making better choices and less likely to return to prison.
“We believe these IRPs provide Northern Ireland Prison Service, South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust and Belfast Metropolitan College leaders with an opportunity to refocus their efforts and partnerships to achieve better outcomes for prisoners and patients held in both prisons,” concluded the Chief Inspectors.