Conditions at Maghaberry stable but concerns remain

Maghaberry prison
Maghaberry prison

Conditions at a prison branded the UK’s most dangerous have stabilised but there are still concerns about safety.

According to an inspection report, the change of leadership at HMP Maghaberry in Northern Ireland has yielded some positive outcomes, however much more needs to be done to bring the high security facility up to scratch.

Brendan McGuigan, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland (CJNI), said: “Four areas have been identified where additional action is recommended after inspectors identified new concerns.

“These include ensuring robust investigations are carried out into allegations of assault on prisoners by staff and that the use of special accommodation within the prison is properly managed and only used as a last resort for the minimum amount of time.”

Last year, officials from HM Inspectorate of Prisons and CJINI described conditions inside Maghaberry as “Dickensian, unsafe and unstable”.

While interim findings from an unprecedented follow up found there had been a slight improvement by February, the jail was not given a clean bill of health.

Among the nine recommendations for improvement in the full inspection report are calls to cut staff absenteeism; reduce the illicit drug problem; prevent diversion of prescribed medication; and the robust investigation of allegations of abuse by staff.

Efforts should also be made to lower the incidents of self-harm with improvements to first night accommodation and induction support as well as closer monitoring of at-risk inmates.

The report stated: “Overall, a significant amount of work was still required to make Maghaberry safer and to reflect more positively in prisoners’ experiences.”

Maghaberry, near Lisburn in Co Antrim, is among the most complex and challenging prison establishments in the UK.

It accommodates 1,000 offenders serving a range of sentences including short or on-remand jail terms to lifers and segregated paramilitary inmates.

A large proportion of the population have learning difficulties, mental health issues, addiction problems or personality disorders.

The full report said the level of vulnerability had become “more marked” since the inspection last May and two additional actions aimed at meeting the healthcare needs of prisoners have also been made.

Mr McGuigan added: “We have suggested a review of the closure of the in-patient health facility at Maghaberry should be carried out, given the difficulties experienced in providing care to an increasing number of men with significant physical and mental health issues.

“We have also reiterated our concern that the increasing mental health needs of vulnerable men within the prison population at Maghaberry need to be met - an issue we raised in February 2016 and were reassured was a priority for the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust.”

Meanwhile, inspectors said the Northern Ireland Prison Service senior management team had been made aware of the findings of the full inspection report and are “committed to working to support the prison governors at Maghaberry to oversee the delivery of the nine inspection recommendations and additional actions”.