Foreign nationals in Northern Ireland are more likely to be in young offenders’ prison (or women’s jail)

A report into the state of parts of the Northern Irish prison system shows that a disproportionate number of inmates are foreign nationals.

The entrance to both Hydebank youth and women's prisons
The entrance to both Hydebank youth and women's prisons

The twin reports published today look into Ash House Women’s Prison (the only female prison in the Province) and Hydebank Wood Secure College (holding young men aged between 18 and 24) – both of which are based in south-east Belfast.

The “secure college” was formerly known as Hydebank Wood Young Offenders’ Centre before taking on its new name in 2015.

In the Hydebank youth facility there were 93 prisoners – 12 of them foreign nationals (roughly 13%).

In the women’s prison, there were 70 inmates – of which 10 were foreign nationals (roughly 14%).

According to the 2011 Census about 4.5% of the general Northern Irish population were foreign nationals.

The News Letter has previously reported that the proportion of Northern Ireland’s total jail population (including the main prisons of Maghaberry and Magilligan) who hail from outside the UK or Ireland is disproportionately high, ranging from around 7% to 9% per year.

According to the report issued today, in the women’s prison the most common “main offences” of the inmates were: “other offences against the person” (21), robbery or theft (16), “other “ (nine); and murder/drug offences (eight prisoners for each).

The pattern was broadly fairly similar in the youth facility too.

In the female prison the report says that one of the main concerns inspectors found was that “illicit drugs and diverted prescribed medicines were easily available” – and “there was no drug supply reduction action plan”.

The same concern about drugs was voiced in the youth prison report, which also said they were “easily available”.

The report adds that “significantly more prisoners than in similar prisons said that they had developed a problem with drugs or medication not prescribed to them while at the prison”.

However, the reports for both facilities noted positive aspects too.

Inspectors found “levels of violence and incidents of self-harm at Ash House were found to be both lower than at the time of the last inspection and lower than at other women’s prisons in England and Wales”.

They also said: “Outcomes for young men at the secure college were dramatically better than at comparable prisons in England and Wales.”

Jacqui Durkin, chief inspector of criminal justice in Northern Ireland, said in a statement that a “culture of respect and strong personal relationships – where staff don’t wear prison officer uniforms and are on first name terms with the women and young men in their care – has undoubtedly helped Ash House and Hydebank Wood Secure College to function well”.

The inspections of both facilities were done late in 2019, long before the Covid-19 crisis, so there is little mention of coronavirus.

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