Northern Ireland news

Northern Ireland youth and women's prisons are `model for good practice'

Inside Hydebank Wood College. Picture by Hugh Russell.

TEN years after a damning report into Northern Ireland Prison Service revealed a shocking litany of debilitating "deep-seated" problems, inspectors have today held up the region as a model for best practice.

Among the findings of unannounced independent inspections of Hydebank Wood Secure College and Ash House women's prison were levels of violence and incidents of self-harm "lower than at the time of the last inspection and lower than at other women's prisons in England and Wales".

They were visited by a multi-disciplinary team of inspectors from Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI), HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP), the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) and Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI).

The team hailed prison officers, health care and education staff for the "remarkable progress" they have made to improve performance and outcomes for young men held at Hydebank Wood Secure College and Ash House women's prison.

Peter Clarke, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons in England and Wales, said "outcomes for young men at the Secure College were dramatically better than at comparable prisons in England and Wales" and they would be recommending "those with responsibility for designing and delivering custodial services for young adults, should study the findings of this report carefully and where appropriate, learn from it".

They hailed "significant improvements" between health care and prison staff "at all levels".

Inspectors found 64 per cent of the recommendations made to the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) in 2016 to improve Hydebank Wood Secure College had been achieved and a further 12 per cent partially achieved, with 58 per cent achieved at Ash House and 13 per cent partially achieved.

Jacqui Durkin, Chief Inspector of CJI described them as "exceptionally high figures", saying the recommendations had been "approached in a constructive and positive way".

She commended a "culture of respect and strong personal relationships", with staff not wearing uniforms and on first name terms with prisoners.

The Chief Inspectors remain concerned that previous inspection recommendations to tackle the supply and use of illegal and prescription drugs and the use of force at both facilities "still needed to be addressed".

"The number of positive results following a mandatory drug test were too high and security intelligence was not effectively used to better understand and manage the risk of drugs in the women's prison and Secure College," Ms Durkin said.

She warned an "effective strategy" must be brought in to reduce the supply of drugs.

And Mr Clarke said reports "did not clearly explain" why the use of force or anti-tear clothing at Ash House was necessary, calling for a "systematic review" by managers of body worn camera and CCTV footage and improvements in their use at the Secure College.

The team also said inmates would benefit from access to higher level qualifications.

Justice Minister Naomi Long described it as "an exceptional report and highlights the continued progress of the Northern Ireland Prison Service".

"It is truly impressive that we are now setting standards for prison facilities across the UK," she said, commending Director General Ronnie Armour and his senior team for "their continued vision and commitment to transform our Prison Service".

Mr Armour paid tribute to governors and staff at Hydebank Wood for their "hard work and dedication"

"I believe much more remarkable progress can be achieved as we move forward," he said.

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