Report of an Independent Review of Progress (IRP) at Maghaberry Prison

Publication: 08/02/24
Cover of Independent Review of Progress at Maghaberry Prison Report
Report of an Independent Review of Progress at Maghaberry Prison

What is an Independent Review of Progress (IRP)?

Independent Review of Progress (IRPs) play a pivotal role in assessing progress prisons have made against concerns identified in inspection reports. IRP aims to support continuous improvement and identify any emerging difficulties at an early stage that could impact on outcomes for prisoners. 

The first IRPs were carried out by Inspectors at Maghaberry Prison and Magilligan Prison, shedding light on both progress and persisting concerns.

Who carried out the Inspection?

What did Inspectors look at during this IRP?

Inspectors followed up on the 12 areas of concern identified during the 2022 inspection.

The IRP included two days on site at Maghaberry Prison in late October/early November 2023 and spoke to leaders, managers, staff, service providers and prisoners.

We also spoke to Independent Monitoring Board members and a staff association.  The prison, the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust (SEHSCT) and Belfast Metropolitan College had provided data and documentation setting out their assessment of the progress they had made and this was examined and tested.

What is Maghaberry prison like now?

Maghaberry Prison showcased reasonably good progress against nine concerns identified in the 2022 Inspection, but insufficient progress against two and no meaningful progress in one.

Improvements and ongoing concerns:

Maghaberry had introduced a robust early learning process to learn from serious incidents and prisoners now had more regular and consistent access to education, skills and work activities. 

The installation of body scanners and reintroduction of mandatory drug testing had helped reduce the level of drugs and other contraband being smuggled into the prison, but leaders did not yet have a co-ordinated plan to tackle this issue and there remained a significant problem with the trade in medication. 

Inspectors were concerned that despite some steps being taken to improve the approach to adult safeguarding, there had not been effective collaboration between prison and health care leaders and there were cases where the approach to safeguarding was not effective.  There needed to be urgent action to address this important issue.  Much also remained to be done to support prisoner rehabilitation and planning for their release.

Notable practice:

The inspection team found four examples of notable positive practice during this IRP, including a tradeable medicines quality improvement project to reduce the number of medicine related incidents; a reading project so that prisoners could record stories and send them to their children that helped to maintain important family connections; the participation in the Belfast Marathon relay and the exploration of mental health and addiction issues through a production by the Spanner in the Works theatre company.


We recognise the challenges faced by leaders in the Northern Ireland Prison Service and its service partners, particularly with the current prison population numbers and resource challenges to drive improvement and it was evident that leaders, managers and staff had taken some steps to respond to the respective inspection findings.

However, ambition and action are needed to support prisoners leaving custody healthier, more employable, making better choices and less likely to return to prison.
Read IRP at Magilligan Prison
Read the Press Release