Inspectors find Prison Service must continue to focus on prisoners at risk

An inspection of the treatment of vulnerable prisoners by the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) has found that while steps have been taken to address the negligence surrounding the death in custody of Colin Bell in August 2008, deficiencies still remain in the regime provided for prisoners at risk.

“Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland found the NIPS has taken action to reduce the risk of suicide in prison cells. Staff members have been made aware of the issues arising from the death of Colin Bell, safer custody teams have been introduced and staff training has been improved,” said Dr Michael Maguire, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
“Yet, despite this positive activity, this report shows there is a continuing gap between the NIPS’s stated intention and the delivery on-the-ground of meaningful outcomes for prisoners, especially at Maghaberry Prison, where the majority of prisoners at risk are located,” he said.
The day-to-day regime for prisoners at risk was also found to have changed little since the joint CJI/HMIP inspection of Maghaberry Prison in January 2009. 
“The inspection - which was carried out in July and August 2009 - found prisoners were continuing to spend too long in their cells, had limited access to out-of-cell activities and inadequate multi-disciplinary care. It also identified inconsistent assessment and monitoring of those at risk,” said Dr Maguire.
“Access to appropriate care is important as it reduces the risk of a prisoner harming themselves and others while in prison. It also lessens the risk of a vulnerable prisoner harming other people following their release,” explained the Chief Inspector.
The report indicates that Inspectors were concerned to find that despite the priority given to prisoners at risk, the REACH landing at Maghaberry was continuing to have to fight to ensure its resources were not re-allocated elsewhere. This is in spite of the fact the prison as a whole, has a high staff to prisoner ratio when compared with other prisons.
In conclusion, Dr Maguire said the pace of change within the NIPS had not been as swift as Inspectors would have wished to see.
“The progress made to date should be viewed as the starting point if further deaths in custody are to be prevented and the situation for vulnerable prisoners improved. This will be the on-going challenge for the NIPS, the new Governor of Maghaberry Prison, when appointed, and their management team,” the Chief Inspector said.