Inspectors find Maghaberry Prison to be unsafe and unstable
A report on an independent inspection of Maghaberry Prison has revealed significant failures in local leadership combined with an ineffective relationship with senior management within the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS), contributed to the high security facility becoming unsafe and unstable for prisoners and staff.
The findings of the highly critical report were jointly published today (5 November 2015) by Brendan McGuigan, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland and Nick Hardwick, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons in England and Wales.
A multi-disciplinary team from Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI), Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP), the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) and the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) visited Maghaberry Prison in May 2015 to carry out the unannounced inspection.
"What we found was a highly complex prison that was in crisis and it is our view that the leadership of the prison had failed to ensure it was both safe and stable," said Mr McGuigan and Mr Hardwick.
"We had real concerns that if the issues identified in this report - which were brought to the attention of the prison leadership at a frank feedback session at the end of the inspection - were not addressed as a matter of urgency, serious disorder or loss of life could occur," added Mr Hardwick.
The Chief Inspectors were also worried that a deliberate fire at Maghaberry's Erne House which had the potential to cause death or serious injury, had occurred in April, just weeks prior to the inspection.
As a result the Chief Inspectors have recommended urgent action be taken to strengthen leadership and called for the circumstances and response to the fire to be subject to an independent review.
Highlighting some of the key findings of the inspection, the Chief Inspectors said more prisoners than before had reported feeling unsafe. Illegal and prescription drugs were also more widely available than in March 2012 when Maghaberry Prison was last inspected.
Staff absence was high which led to frequent and unpredictable disruption to the daily regime for many prisoners. This situation had a negative impact on relationships between prisoners and staff.
Inspectors found substantial numbers of prisoners were spending long periods of time locked up in their cells, limiting access to education, showers, opportunities to make telephone calls to family and friends and carry out everyday domestic tasks. This situation was frustrating for prisoners and contributed to the overall instability of the prison.
Levels of assaults and rates of self-harm at Maghaberry Prison had increased and Inspectors were told a great deal of bullying and incidents of physical violence were going unreported.
Staff morale within the prison was described as 'low' at the time of the inspection with some staff members subject to credible threats.
"The risk and impact of threats and acts of intimidation cannot be seen in isolation from the challenges faced by the leadership and staff of the Prison Service in managing the separated units, which consumes a disproportionate amount of management attention" said Mr McGuigan.
"Giving preference to maintaining the regime for separated prisoners over every other area in the prison is unfair and has a negative impact on more than 900 men who make up the majority of the prison population."
He continued: "This position is untenable and a radical new approach is now required. To assist with this process we recommend that should it remain necessary to manage the separated units in this way, their location, management, and resources should be treated as stand alone to that of the main prison."
The Chief Inspectors also highlighted their concern around health care provision within Maghaberry which was impinging on the prison's ability to function effectively.
"Inspectors were very concerned that aspects of health care provision had deteriorated since the previous inspection. In our view it was falling short and not meeting the complex needs of the prison population," they said.
"There were insufficient numbers of primary care nurses and problems in retaining staff. Some areas of health care including chronic disease management and substance misuse, were considered by Inspectors to be unsafe.
Delays and serious problems with the way in which medications were administered, particularly the practice of prisoners holding their own prescribed drugs created a risk of medicines being diverted and vulnerable prisoners bullied," the Chief Inspectors continued.
"We have therefore recommended that health care services are urgently improved to ensure patient safety and requested that an action plan to address the concerns identified in this report be developed within one month by the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust in partnership with the Prison Service," said Mr Hardwick.
In summary Mr Hardwick said: "This was a concerning inspection of a prison which was as bad as any we have seen in recent years.
"When Maghaberry was assessed against the renowned 'healthy prison' standards, performance was found to have fallen from 'not sufficiently good' to 'poor' in relation to safety, respect and purposeful activity. Only in relation to resettlement had the standard of 'reasonably good' been maintained. In addition only 16 of the 93 recommendations made in 2012 had been achieved.
"We acknowledge that Inspectors met a number of good and motivated managers and staff within the prison. They gave us some hope that with the right kind of leadership and tangible support, Maghaberry could recover and reach a point where progress could be made," said Mr McGuigan.
"We welcome the actions taken to date by the Prison Service and the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust to address the issues raised in this report. But given the serious concerns held regarding the operation of Maghaberry, Inspectors will return in January 2016 to carry out a further inspection to assess both the impact of the work currently underway and progress against the inspection recommendations.
"It will only be at this point following an impartial assessment that our concerns may be allayed," said Mr McGuigan.