New governor out to make a difference at Maghaberry

David Kennedy has risen from a normal prison officer to governor at Maghaberry
David Kennedy has risen from a normal prison officer to governor at Maghaberry

The new governor at Maghaberry has said full and productive days are key to rehabilitating prisoners.

David Kennedy, 51, has 30 years experience as a prison officer.

The former rugby player started in Magilligan Prison in Co Londonderry. He worked recently in Hydebank Wood, the young offenders’ centre.

But most of his career has been spent in Maghaberry, rising through the ranks from normal prison officer.

He said: “My heart is very much in Maghaberry. I have done most of my time in Maghaberry.”

Mr Kennedy maintained a fast clip as he strode around the high-security prison, exchanging greetings with people wearing luminous jackets and moving bins and young prisoners who looked barely out of school just finished a gym session.

The gleaming fitness centre lined with running machines and kettle bells rivalled a commercial gym but snow made the outdoor artificial turf pitch on a central courtyard known as Red Square uninviting.

Mr Kennedy said: “The first key thing is a full productive day.”

He added: “You can make a difference in a lot of ways, you are engaging with them and sometimes a lot of people are not used to that.

“People come in here and they live chaotic lives outside, they come in in crisis.”

He said staff were proud of what they were doing to help.

“The people here make a difference to prisoners’ lives.”

In 2015 inspectors described Maghaberry as the most dangerous prison they had ever visited.

They found a state of crisis and instability and warned of significant failures in leadership.

More than two years later and Mr Kennedy said safety was his paramount concern.

Maghaberry has seen the lowest level of incidents for four years, anything from the calling of emergency ambulances to someone damaging a cell.

The governor said it was important to have people out of their cells and associating.

“I take a really forward-thinking approach to doing everything we can to come up with work.”

Jobs ranged from recycling a thousand milk bottles a day on a conveyor belt to higher education.

A life-sentenced prisoner who called himself Frederick (not his real name) was about to start a philosophy degree.

He was mentoring an inmate doing a basic-level cooking examination, busily moving pots around akin to a MasterChef episode.

The candidate prepared steak with peppered sauce, as a judge in a multi-coloured chef’s outfit watched with a notebook.

Frederick reflected on life inside: “Will you be a different person?

“If you go out of here the same person as you came in you are a fool.”

Education is run by Belfast Met.

In the art studio the teacher wore overalls stained with paint, works adorned the wall.

The tutor added: “Everything that is done here is underpinned by a therapeutic approach.”

A painting by one A-level student featured a vivid depiction of a skull and was made using a variety of materials.

Belfast Met holds the same standards inside prison as outside.

The governor said: “It is about trying to link that, so people doing accreditation through Belfast Met can leave to do that outside the gate.”

Recently more than 100 people received qualifications in one day, with music and food laid on and a celebratory atmosphere.

The governor said: “I have been at Maghaberry on and off for the past 20 years and it was one of the best days I have spent here.”