Report on an unannounced inspection of Maghaberry Prison

Publication: 16/06/23
Cover of Maghaberry Prison Inspection
Action needed to improve prisoner outcomes at Maghaberry Prison

Inspectors have called for urgent action to be taken by the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) to address issued affecting outcomes for prisoners at Maghaberry Prison.
CJI Chief Inspector Jacqui Durkin said the joint inspection team from CJI, His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons in England and Wales (HMI Prisons), the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) and the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) had identified five priority concerns and seven key concerns which required urgent action.
“When Inspectors visited Maghaberry in September and October 2022, we found a decline in performance against the ‘healthy prison’ tests since the last inspection in 2018 and identified a number of concerns which included access to drugs and significant areas for improvement in the delivery of education, skills and work activities, “ said Ms Durkin.
“Inspectors identified there was a serious drug problem at Maghaberry at the time of the inspection with 41% of prisoners surveyed during this inspection indicating it was easy to get illicit drugs at Maghaberry while 28% told us they had developed a drug problem while they were there. We found there was no effective or co-ordinated plan in place to reduce the demand for and supply of drugs and no means of assessing the effectiveness of actions taken. This needs to be addressed as a priority,” she said.
The Chief Inspector said prisoner access to education, training and work activities had also declined which was restricting opportunities for men held at Maghaberry to develop practical skills.
Performance against the four health prison tests of safety, respect, purposeful activity and rehabilitation and release planning had not improved when compared to previous levels of performance.
Inspectors assessed performance at Maghaberry as unchanged in two areas with safety assessed as ‘not sufficiently good’ and ‘reasonably good’ in relation to respect.  Performance in relation to purposeful activity had dropped and was now assessed as ‘poor.’  Rehabilitation and release planning had deteriorated the most falling two points from ‘good’ in 2018 to ‘not sufficiently good’ in 2022.
Arrangements for release into the community had also deteriorated with many prisoners released without adequate plans and concerns were also identified by Inspectors about aspects of safe custody and the adequacy of safeguarding investigations. There was also insufficient access to psychologically informed treatments to meet the needs of prisoners.
Ms Durkin said Inspectors were also concerned about some comments prisoners and staff made to Inspectors about the treatment of Catholic prisoners and prisoner survey results that the NIPS need to consider carefully.
“We believe the NIPS need to better understand the extent of this or any other inappropriate behaviours and create a safe space where prisoners and staff can report such issues, confident in the knowledge they will be dealt with appropriately,” she said.
While the Chief Inspector stressed that Inspectors had also identified four areas of notable positive practice including the therapeutic interventions provided for vulnerable prisoners in the Donard Centre,  the use of technology to streamline processes, the adaptation of the rewards and sanctions scheme for prisoners who had learning and behavioural difficulties and services for foreign national prisoners, she said that overall, the inspection findings were disappointing.
“We accept the COVID-19 pandemic was challenging for Maghaberry as it has been for all prisons in the United Kingdom and we acknowledge the increase in the prison population and high numbers of men held on remand.  However, prison leaders must focus on getting prisoners off wing and into the sort of meaningful work, training, education and rehabilitative support that will make them less likely to offend on their release,” said Ms Durkin.
“We recognise the findings of this inspection report are both difficult and troubling to read for Northern Ireland Prison Service leaders, Governors at Maghaberry, Prison Officers, health care and education staff working at the prison, as well as prisoners and the families and loved ones of those men held there.  We expect the Northern Ireland Prison Service, its health care and education partners from the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust and Belfast Metropolitan College to work together to address the concerns we have highlighted and deliver improvements to achieve better outcomes for prisoners held there,” she concluded.