A Review into the operation of Care and Supervision Units in the Northern Ireland Prison Service

Publication: 01/02/22
Care and Supervision Review Report Cover Image
Some prisoners in Care and Supervision Units experiencing regimes amounting to solitary confinement

An independent review of the operation of Care and Supervision Units in the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) led by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) has found some prisoners held there experienced regimes which amounted to solitary confinement and their treatment did not meet the expected United Nations (UN) Standard Minimum Rules.

The Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland, Jacqui Durkin agreed to undertake the focused review following a request from the Minister of Justice in November 2020 after significant concerns were raised with the Minister about the operation of the units in Northern Ireland’s prisons.  It was carried out in partnership with Inspectors from the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority and the Education and Training Inspectorate. 

“Prisoners can be segregated in Care and Supervision Units (CSUs) away from the general prison population for their own safety or the safety of others, for breaking Prison Rules or because they are suspected of having drugs or other illicit items in their possession.  Some prisoners placed in the CSUs have severe mental disorders and individual needs that make them more vulnerable, complex and particularly challenging for staff to care for,” said Ms Durkin.  

“However regardless of why any male or female prisoner is segregated in a CSU, there are accepted Expectations developed by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons in England and Wales (HMIP) and UN Standard Minimum Rules for their treatment and care that apply, which include access to health care and purposeful activity, like learning, skills and physical activity.

“This in-depth review published today (1 February 2022) found evidence that the regime experienced by a number of CSU prisoners did not meet the UN Standard Minimum Rules known as the Mandela Rules.  We found evidence that prisoners in CSUs were spending too long in their cell without meaningful human contact,” said the Chief Inspector.

She continued: “During our work Inspectors met impressive and committed Prison Officers and health care staff in CSUs who demonstrated compassion for the prisoners and patients in their care while facing complex challenges every day and I commend them all for their efforts.

“But I believe that without appropriate evidence, it is not possible to provide satisfactory assurance to prisoners and their families, the Minister of Justice, the Northern Ireland Assembly or the wider community, that prisoners held in CSUs in Northern Ireland’s prisons experienced a regime that met required minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners,” said Ms Durkin.

Inspectors found meaningful human contact and interactions with prisoners were not sufficiently evidenced or recorded to dispel wider concerns about the length of time prisoners spent in their cells. 

“For contact to be ‘meaningful’ it must extend beyond meeting a prisoner’s basic needs such as providing a food tray at a door, asking if they had any requests or wanted a shower,” said Ms Durkin. 

“Establishing and maintaining meaningful human contact with prisoners who do not, or cannot, engage can be extremely challenging.  It requires skilled, motivated staff with access to support and specialist advice when needed.” 

Inspectors found opportunities for prisoners held in the CSUs to participate in purposeful activity, including learning and skills and physical activity, were not proactively encouraged and association with other prisoners was not routinely assessed or provided.  

Staff were hindered by the limitations of the present facilities and the Inspection Team identified a clear need for Prison Officers to be supported with appropriate staff selection procedures and training to improve prisoner outcomes.

Ms Durkin said that despite the NIPS’s promotion of a corporate ethos of prisoners being treated as ‘people in our care,’ it did not have a strategy in place for the operation and future development of CSUs where some of the most vulnerable people in the prison system live. 

“The lack of a clearly defined corporate approach for CSUs - that is promoted by the NIPS leadership and supports the implementation and delivery of consistent, operational practice in each CSU - has hampered opportunities to improve outcomes for segregated prisoners,” said the Chief Inspector.

Inspectors also found the shared CSU for young men and women at Hydebank Wood in place at the time fieldwork was undertaken was out of step with the UN Mandela Rules and HMIP’s specific Expectations for women in prison as it did not provide ‘entirely separate’ facilities. 

Inspectors have made three strategic and 11 operational recommendations for improvement as a result of their findings.  

“I believe these recommendations will help ensure UN Standard Minimum Rules for the treatment and care of segregated prisoners are met and deliver improvements in oversight and operational prison practice, health care provision, education and training opportunities and outcomes for prisoners” said Ms Durkin.

“I acknowledge the messages in the review report are hard for many involved in the care of prisoners to hear, particularly given the efforts made by the NIPS to keep prisoners safe from the COVID-19 virus during the pandemic and the focus there has been on managing its impact on staff and services.  However, the issues we identified existed before, were present during and will extend beyond the pandemic unless action is taken on the recommendations,” said Ms Durkin.

“I am pleased the NIPS has accepted the review report recommendations and I expect the Director General and his leadership team, working with the Department of Justice, and its partners in the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust and Belfast Metropolitan College, will specifically reflect them in its future plans and priorities to improve prisoner outcomes.

“I will be maintaining a focus on the issues identified in this review report when we follow-up on the implementation of the recommendations as part of future prison inspections we undertake with our Inspection partners,” concluded the Chief Inspector.