Maghaberry Prison: separation at a price

A joint Inspection of Maghaberry Prison by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons and the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice does not question the policy of separation but points out that it has been costly in terms of money and the level of service to prisoners.

Separated Loyalist and Republican prisoners account for only about 10 per cent of the prison population. However, their presence reinforces a high security culture that has a disproportionate effect on the prison as a whole.
The report showed that the number of prison officers required to staff the separated accommodation meant that other prisoners were more likely to be confined to their cells for longer periods of time and had less chance to benefit from recreational and educational opportunities.
“Maghaberry is a complex, maximum security prison which is costly to maintain and resource,” said Kit Chivers, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland. “Yet this degree of security is not necessary for many prisoners, such as fine defaulters and other short term prisoners.
“If other accommodation existed, the needs of these prisoners could be catered for more economically and more effectively in a less secure facility. This is a problem of having a small prison estate”, he said.
The report states that the average cost per prisoner place in Northern Ireland is around £86,000 a year, and the cost per place in Maghaberry is undoubtedly higher. This makes it at least twice as expensive as the highest security prison in England and Wales. 
The Inspectors found that Maghaberry Prison had some good features. Some good work was being done to prepare prisoners for their eventual return to the community – particularly by helping them to retain important family links.  
However, some cells were found to be too small to be suitable for sharing, and the prison kitchen was in urgent need of replacement.
Prisoners had insufficient opportunity to take part in purposeful activities such as education, training and sport. More needed to be done to improve the working practices of the staff to ensure a better service, which would help to reduce the likelihood of prisoners re-offending when they were released.
“While a number of recommendations have come out of this report, the main changes cannot be delivered by Maghaberry alone. A culture shift is needed throughout the NI Prison Service to ensure that its resources – which are substantial - are used more effectively”, Mr Chivers concluded.
The Inspectors made 171 detailed recommendations for improvement. In response the NI Prison Service has drawn up an Action Plan, which is annexed to the report.