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Complaints from prisoners triple in a year

Maghaberry Prison in Co Antrim. Picture by Alan Lewis, Photopress Belfast.

COMPLAINTS from prisoners have tripled in a year.

The Prisoner Ombudsman received more than 1,400 complaints in 2014-15, three times the 2013-14 figure.

Almost all - 97 per cent - were made by inmates at Maghaberry jail in Co Antrim.

Four out of five of the complaints from Maghaberry came from 'separated' republicans who raised concerns about issues including full body searches and the frequency of night checks.

However, Prisoner Ombudsman Tom McGonigle expressed concerns that a backlog in Maghaberry's internal complaints system meant that many grievances from non-segregated prisoners could not be passed on to his office.

The ombudsman praised several prison reforms, including the cessation of automatically handcuffing prisoners during transportation and the decision to house fewer inmates in Maghaberry's older buildings.

But he said high rates of sick leave among staff had led to more lock-downs and "limited purposeful activity, all of which heightened tensions and increased frustration and vulnerability levels among prisoners".

Mr McGonigle, who looked at all of the north's jails, said attempts to provide "predictable regimes were generally successful in Hydebank Wood Young Offenders Centre, Ash House Women's Prison and Magilligan Prison".

But he said it was "imperative that the NIPS (Northern Ireland Prison Service) take urgent remedial action at Maghaberry as the impact of staff shortages risks destabilising the prison and is fundamentally at odds with the reform agenda".

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