Inspection report finds dramatic improvements at Hydebank
Hydebank Wood, which houses young offenders along with Northern Ireland's female prison population, has been "transformed" from a failing institution to one described in parts as "outstanding" by inspectors.
A Criminal Justice Inspection report noted dramatic changes at the facility on the outskirts of Belfast to become a 'secure college' with over 90 per cent uptake for some education classes.
Chief Inspector Brendan McGuigan said during their visit in May they found a clear focus on providing "enhanced educational and learning opportunities" for both young men and the female inmates of Ash House.
"This vision centred on helping both young men and women prisoners break the cycle of reoffending and offering assistance in the process of rehabilitation to help offenders live a more purposeful, law-abiding life on release.
“Relationships between staff and prisoners had moved on considerably since our last inspection. Engagement was found to be consistently positive and in some cases was outstanding, with most staff adopting a caring, supportive approach and an interest in the welfare of young men and women in their care."
However, an issue with drugs was noted by inspectors who recommended more robust action.
"During the inspection we heard from both young men and women prisoners about the greater availability of illicit drugs which, when combined with a concentration of prisoners presenting with challenging behaviour, was resulting in bullying and intimidation,” said Mr McGuigan.
"We remain concerned that work to address the availability of drugs continues to be under-developed".
However, he added: "The changes which have taken place show what can be achieved within and by the Northern Ireland Prison Service when prison reform is embraced."
Justice minister Claire Sugden said the positive results were "a testament to the work of all the staff at Hydebank Wood to transform the centre into the first secure college in the UK".
Prison Service director general Sue McAllister said: "In 2013 the inspection team described the then Young Offenders Centre as a failing institution. Through local leadership and a determination by our staff and partners to deliver the first secure college on these islands, Hydebank Wood has been transformed."