Northern Ireland news

Call for Executive spotlight on prison system after latest death in custody

A 34-year-old remand prisoner was the third inmate to die in Maghaberry in a month

A call has been made for the "full attention of the Executive" on the prison system after a third death in custody in a month.

A 34-year-old remand prisoner died at the high-security Maghaberry jail on Wednesday.

The Prison Service confirmed the death was being investigated, although it was not thought to have been a suicide.

Six prisoners have died in Maghaberry in the past 12 months - four by suicide.

Acting Prison Service director general Phil Wragg extended his sympathy to the family of the inmate.

"My thoughts are with them at this difficult time," he said.

The prisoner was found dead in his cell on Wednesday morning and investigations were launched by the police, coroner and Prisoner Ombudsman.

Maghaberry accommodates sentenced and remand prisoners and has segregated areas for paramilitary inmages.

It was ranked among the most dangerous jails in the UK after a damning inspection last year.

Prison authorities were also heavily criticised in a recent ombudsman report after vulnerable inmate Sean Lynch was able to blind himself in June 2014.

Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie claimed the latest death pointed to a crisis within the system.

"Whatever the exact circumstance was, it is simply not acceptable that people who are incarcerated within a state institution are dying on such a regular basis," he said.

"This is the third fatality in the month of November. That fact alone must surely shake away any complacency amongst those in charge of our prison system.

"There is a crisis in our prison service which deserves the full attention of the Executive, the Minister for Justice, and prison management."

Earlier this month Stormont ministers announced a review of how vulnerable prisoners are monitored after a number of recent suicides and self-harm incidents.

Workers Party representative Gemma Weir yesterday called on the Executive, the justice minister and management at Maghaberry to hold a crisis meeting to both address immediate issues and plan for the longer term.

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