Northern Ireland news

Maghaberry Prison governor says staff have saved the lives of 11 vulnerable prisoners since 2017

One of the wings inside Maghaberry prison near Lisburn, Co Antrim. Picture by Paul Faith, Press Association 

Staff at Maghaberry Prison have saved the lives of 11 vulnerable prisoners, according to its new governor.

Inspectors have expressed concern about the care of such inmates in the past and said plans for some men at risk of suicide and self-harm were unacceptable.

The high-security prison's new governor David Kennedy has said safety was one of his top priorities. Speaking to the Press Association Mr Kennedy said officers have rescued 11 lives, 10 last year and one this year.

He added: "The number of prisoners who are kept safe by staff on an ongoing basis through building relationships, it is impossible to measure the good that has been done."

He said staff interventions were crucial.

A number of cases of self-harm and suicide have been recorded within Maghaberry's walls.

In 2016 a Prisoner Ombudsman report said prison staff watched as an inmate with mental ill health blinded himself

Last summer a highly critical inspection report found the prison was being used as a secure mental health facility despite not being a "therapeutic environment".

The report by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJINI) found the prison was 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.

In 2015 a joint assessment by HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) and CJINI described it as a prison in crisis which was "unstable and unsafe" for prisoners and staff.

Nick Hardwick from the HMIP said it was the most dangerous prison he had visited and claimed conditions were "Dickensian".

Meanwhile, speaking generally to the Press Association, Mr Kennedy said his staff noticed when the behaviour of prisoners was out of character.

In one case, the governor said, a prisoner would normally have been up and about but was just lying in bed.

The officer checked to find he was self-harming under the covers.

Mr Kennedy added: "There was no reason to check him other than that they had the relationship to observe his behaviour."

The prison has a special regime for those deemed at risk of suicide or self-harm (Supporting Prisoners At Risk) involving intensive monitoring and measures like safe cells with no ligature points.

In 2008 Colin Bell died by suicide. He had been in a safe cell and was deemed at risk of suicide and had a history of self-harm.

His death prompted major reforms within the Northern Ireland Prison Service.

Mr Kennedy said often the service was not aware of the impact of its work in preventing self-harm.

"I think the staff are very proud of what they are doing and people do get a real sense of achievement and satisfaction.

"The people here do make a difference to prisoners' lives.

"Every day they make a difference, sometimes a small difference, sometimes a bigger difference."

David Kennedy, the new governor at Maghaberry Prison. Picture by Michael Cooper, PA

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