Chief Inspectors declare poor standards at Maghaberry Prison cannot continue


Inspectors have called for urgent action to be taken to improve standards at Maghaberry Prison as the findings of the latest unannounced inspection of the high security facility were published today (21 July 2009).

Dr Michael Maguire, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland and Dame Anne Owers, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales, voiced their concerns as they revealed Maghaberry Prison had not performed sufficiently well in any of the key inspection tests.

“This inspection was carried out against the four criteria that make up the internationally recognised ‘healthy prison’ standards which look at the areas of safety, respect, purposeful activity and resettlement,” said the Chief Inspectors.
“Inspectors found Maghaberry was ‘not performing sufficiently well' in the areas of respect and resettlement, and was ‘performing poorly’ in the area of purposeful activity,” said Dame Anne.
“Maghaberry Prison was also found to be ‘performing poorly’ in the crucial area of safety – one of only three out of the 169 establishments inspected by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons since April 2005 to receive this assessment,” she added.
Inspectors found that at the time of the inspection, there was no local suicide or self-harm policy for the prison, little therapeutic support for some very vulnerable men and poor monitoring procedures in place for those at risk.
They also found too little attention was paid to anti-bullying and investigating violent incidents and that the Standby Search Team within the prison still had too forceful a presence and its activities were not subject to sufficient independent monitoring.
“Inspectors were also concerned at the lack of activity places to keep prisoners purposefully engaged which led to many men spending most of their days locked up without the opportunity to gain useful skills,” said Dr Maguire.
“And more could be done to increase the provision of education, training and offending behaviour programmes to assist prisoners to change their behaviour and reduce their likelihood of re-offending following release,” he continued.
As a result of this inspection, a total of 200 recommendations have been made in this report - 11 of which are core recommendations that the Chief Inspectors indicated require urgent action.
They include the development and implementation of an effective, responsive violence and anti-bullying strategy, the establishment and delivery of a local suicide prevention policy, and therapeutic response to those at risk of suicide or self harm.
“We have also recommended the Standby Search Team be disbanded and its resources used to allow prison searching and incident management to be carried out by residential and security staff,” said the Chief Inspectors.
They continued: “In addition, managers should be able to enter residential units freely without warning to allow more effective supervision of both staff and the prisoners for whom they are responsible. And a personal officer scheme should be implemented to encourage prison officers to engage positively with prisoners and take an active part in their resettlement plan.”
Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons has requested the Northern Ireland Prison Service produce an action plan detailing its response to each recommendation incorporating timescales, prioritisation and clear accountability for its delivery.
Speaking following the publication of the report, Dr Michael Maguire said: “With an average annual cost per prisoner place of £81,500, Maghaberry is one of the most expensive prisons in the UK.   Yet, it has been found to be significantly under performing in relation to what is expected of an effective UK prison in the 21st Century.
“It is a prison with serious operational difficulties that will require a concerted effort to change. Our overall conclusion is that the current position at Maghaberry cannot continue and there remains significant room for improvement in its operation as a public service,” he said.
Indicating the way forward Dr Maguire and Dame Anne said: “A clear development plan for improvement is required alongside a demonstrable management commitment to challenge the status quo and make change happen. Without this commitment, we are not optimistic the substantial improvements that are needed will occur.
“If this commitment however does exist, this inspection report can provide a firm basis upon which future successful operations can be built,” the Chief Inspectors concluded.