‘Work required to improve the safety of prisoners in Northern Ireland’: Inspection report
Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) and the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) have called on the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) and the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust (SEHSCT), to improve how they tackle issues of self-harm, suicide, bullying and drug misuse in local prisons.
The recommendations – which are to be implemented within the next nine months – are included in a joint report on the safety of prisoners published today (22 October 2014).
"Serving time in prison can be relatively straightforward for some offenders. But for those prisoners with mental health issues, personality disorders, drug or alcohol addiction or learning difficulties, it can be a time of great vulnerability," said Brendan McGuigan, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
"The safety of prisoners is not just about preventing deaths in custody - it's about ensuring appropriate care and support is provided to protect and support those who are at risk," he said.
Given the concentration of need found in Northern Ireland's prisons, Inspectors recommended that existing policies aimed at addressing these issues, be reviewed to take account of the inspection findings.
"Joint strategies between the NIPS and the SEHSCT should be introduced to address the inter-linked areas of suicide, self-harm, bullying and violence reduction and the availability and access to illegal and prescription drugs," said the Chief Inspector.
"We believe this work should be undertaken as a matter of urgency and completed by July 2015, as the quantity and availability of drugs within the prisons is concerning and has significant links to bullying and safer custody."
Reflecting on the current situation, Mr McGuigan said: "We would acknowledge the work the NIPS and SEHSCT have carried out to improve prisoner safety since 2008. Inspectors saw evidence of good work being undertaken by Prison Service and healthcare staff on a daily basis in dealing with difficult, damaged and vulnerable individuals in a caring manner.
"This positive engagement coupled with quick and decisive action, has meant lives have been saved."
In conclusion, the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice said that given the importance of the safety of prisoners more remained to be done.
"We would urge the NIPS and SEHSCT to enhance communication and strengthen their working relationships at strategic and operational levels.
"I believe this inspection report can be used as a springboard to develop the partnership between the two organisations to improve safety and outcomes for prisoners, and we will return to assess progress as part of our future follow-up review programme," he said.