Chief Inspector welcomes impressive progress in response to challenging report

A Follow-Up Review to assess the implementation of recommendations made in an in-depth report examining the operation of Care and Supervision Units (CSUs) by the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) has praised the impressive progress that has been made.
The Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland, Jacqui Durkin, said work undertaken in the last 18 months by the NIPS in partnership with health care and education and training providers, had improved governance and oversight arrangements and led to better access to purposeful activity for men and women held in the CSUs.
“This Follow-Up Review demonstrates what can be achieved when leaders commit to implementing recommendations and improving services to achieve better outcomes,” said Ms Durkin.
“The findings of the CSU Review were challenging for the NIPS when the review report was published in February 2022, however Inspectors found action taken in partnership with the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, Belfast Metropolitan College and North West Regional College to implement the recommendations was impressive,” she said.
Inspectors found that three strategic and eight operational recommendations had either been fully or partially achieved when they returned to the CSUs in early 2023.  A further three operational recommendations were assessed as not achieved, however Inspectors found evidence work was ongoing to progress one of the outstanding recommendations.
“When the findings of the review were published in February 2022, I gave a commitment to maintain a focus on the issues we identified, including the lack of appropriate evidence to provide satisfactory assurance that prisoners held in Northern Ireland’s CSUs experienced a regime that met required minimum standards around their access to meaningful human contact, time out of cell, health care and purposeful activity, like learning, skills and physical activity,” said Ms Durkin.
“Inspectors recommended that a framework should be developed for the operation of CSUs that would reflect minimum standards for the treatment of men and women held in segregation, including guidance on the interpretation of meaningful human contact.
“The development and publication of this framework was delivered at pace, and it provides clear messages about why monitoring segregation, as well as transparency and consistent governance arrangements, are vital in discharging human rights obligations,” she said.
“An innovative IT solution has been implemented to monitor time out of cell, prisoner engagement and purposeful activity, which can prompt action to safeguard prisoners against being held in conditions which amount to solitary confinement.
“Inspectors urge the NIPS to secure the most value from this investment by using the data and information collected to develop and drive better service delivery and effective oversight of the CSUs,” she said.
The Chief Inspector also noted the impact of the use of body scanners to detect and prevent illicit substances and prohibited items being brought into the prison.
“The introduction of body scanners in March 2023 led to an increase in the number of prisoners being placed in the CSU which in turn created pressure for staff.  This serves to illustrate the complexity of providing services to prisoners held in the CSU who experience a wide variety of issues, including those attempting to carry drugs and other items into prison,” she said.
Ms Durkin said Inspectors found that swift action was taken to ensure women were no longer placed in a CSU facility at Hydebank Wood shared by young men.  Instead, since September 2022, a new dedicated women-only unit was provided that could better support their needs.
As during the original review, Inspectors met many prison and health care staff who demonstrated compassion for the prisoners in their care.
Staff members working within CSUs who spoke to Inspectors during fieldwork for the Follow-Up Review reported feeling better equipped and supported in their role.
A range of relevant training and development opportunities had been identified and were now being provided.  Inspectors found staff had embraced training opportunities and driving change, particularly around regime monitoring and exit planning to assist prisoners return to the general prison population.
“While we recognise the significant positive progress that has been made to implement recommendations, there is still work to be done by everyone involved to sustain the current commitment to deliver improvement, particularly around information sharing and the services provided to support prisoners experiencing personality disorders,” said the Chief Inspector.
Ms Durkin reflected that the number of people with a personality disorder in prison was significant with some held in a CSU.  These prisoners, she said presented with some of the most challenging and complex behaviours, and were projected to rise in the coming years.
“During fieldwork for this Follow-Up Review, 50% of people within the CSU had complex mental health needs.  Staff from the NIPS and the Southern Eastern Health and Social Care Trust were doing their best to manage and support these vulnerable individuals in an environment that was not conducive to the promotion of their wellbeing and recovery.
“I remain concerned not only for these vulnerable men and women with very complex needs but also for the staff who look after them,” she said.
In conclusion Ms Durkin said Inspectors were satisfied that a further Follow-Up Review was not required, and that future assessment of progress will be included within future prison inspections.