Maghaberry Prison being used 'as a mental health facility'
A HIGHLY critical inspection report has found that Maghaberry Prison is being used as a secure mental health facility despite not being a "therapeutic environment".
The report found the prison is being used by courts as "a safe place" to house men while mental health assessments took place, despite not having the resources to do so.
A recent unannounced inspection on the Co Antrim jail found shortcomings in the care and support provided to at risk prisoners.
Brendan McGuigan, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland, said that while management are continuing to work to improve the prison's performance, "staff must ensure the needs of vulnerable prisoners are addressed".
"Maghaberry Prison does not provide a therapeutic environment. We were therefore concerned to find the prison was being used as a safe place by the courts while mental health assessments took place."
Among those currently on remand in the top security prison is a 40-year-old man accused of murdering Michael and Majorie Cawdery, both 83, found stabbed in their Portadown home in May.
Thomas Scott McEntee from Kilkeel, Co Down had been taken to a nearby hospital after being spotted behaving erratically in the street but escaped and was later arrested and charged in connection with the double murder.
A high level health service, Serious Adverse Incident investigation is currently underway into the circumstances.
Mr McGuigan said: "I welcome the drive, determination, innovation and creativity shown by the leadership team and staff to stabilise the prison, to improve outcomes for those committed to their care and implement the nine recommendations made two years ago.
"However this positive work and the desire to deliver a more stable, safe environment for prisoners and staff must ensure the needs of vulnerable prisoners are addressed.
"Despite a reduction in the overall number of men self harming within the prison, Inspectors had significant concerns around the management and care of men who had or were at risk of self harming.
"I am concerned that despite the critical reports into deaths in custody and serious self harm, some important lessons have not been learned, even though a single over-arching death in custody action plan had been developed by the Northern Ireland Prison Service," he added.
Reflecting on the positive work on-going at the prison, Mr McGuigan said the day-to-day regime at Maghaberry was more stable and reliable with fewer restrictions around movement and activity occurring.
A new GP clinical lead has been appointed and missed appointments by prisoners has dropped from 50 to 13 per cent as a result.
Head of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, Ronnie Armour said there has been "significant progress" made at Maghaberry over the past two years.
"This is a timely report by inspectors who acknowledge that the needs of prisoners are complex and that vulnerable prisoners especially present a real challenge.
"There is also now a wider recognition in judiciary and inspectorate that the criminal justice system is not equipped to deal with people who suffer mental health difficulties.
"This is not an issue which the Prison Service can resolve alone but we can and will contribute to work as recommended by the inspectors. Alongside our healthcare partners in the South Eastern Trust, all steps will continue to be taken to ensure that those prisoners in Maghaberry who are at risk of self-harm, suicide or otherwise vulnerable are managed and supported effectively", he added.