Northern Ireland news

A detention centre like no other in Ireland or Britain

Governor Richard Taylor inside Hydebank Wood. Picture by Hugh Russell

There are no detention centres in Ireland or Britain like Hydebank Wood, housing both young offenders and adult women, both sentenced and remand.

And so it is fitting that there are no prison governors quite like Richard Taylor.

He has helped take a facility once dogged with problems to become one where prisoners are now called 'students', staff are called by their first names and almost all inmates spend their day involved in 'purposeful' activity, training or education.

The latest inspection report did express concern about the availability of drugs among the young male inmates, and in the absence of a purpose-built women's prison there are always going to problems running a mixed facility in an estate that was never designed as such.

However, the changes to the working day, how prisoners and staff interact and the atmosphere within Hydebank have changed dramatically.

All this was achieved on a budget reduced by £1 million a year.

Goats and sheep are kept and cared for by inmates in the grounds and this animal therapy, along with two chocolate brown Labradors donated to the prison, have had a massive impact on the mental health of some of Hydebank's most troubled women.

Rescued battery hens provide eggs for use in the prison restaurant known as The Cabin, where staff and prisoners often eat together, with organic vegetables also grown in the prison's garden and some sold to the public.

A state of the art recycling centre was built on site and partly manned by prisoners thanks to cash from seized criminal assets.

It feels less like a prison and more a secure rehab facility but the governor, who has 29 years experience, makes no apologies for that, saying while many of his and his predecessor Austin Tracey's radical ideas raised eyebrows, they've managed to erase multiple problems without compromising security and give purpose to prisoners' lives and therefore reduce the chances of becoming repeat offenders.

Jimmy (22) from Co Fermanagh has been in and out of prison for violent offences for many years but says Hydebank has now changed him for the better.

"The staff treat you like a person now and not an animal. I'm in a better place mentally, I know now why I was getting so angry but also how to stop that happening again."

Simple things like inviting local pensioners for a meal in the prison restaurant, cooked and served by inmates, have changed the young men's outlook dramatically.

"We don't have a choice in who we have here, we take anyone the courts send us, and we're still a work in progress but I'm immensely proud of the achievements so far," said Mr Taylor.

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