NINE prisoners in Northern Ireland have died of drugs and alcohol abuse within days of leaving jail over the last three years.
In his annual report, Prisoner Ombudsman Tom McGonigle said two of the men died within 24 hours, both from a suspected heroin overdose.
All nine died less than 10 days after being released, despite having been subject to treatment programmes while in jail.
Heroin misuse was linked to almost all the deaths, which occurred while the prisoners were still subject to monitoring arrangements as part of their release.
One man died of a heart attack, thought to have been brought on by cocaine abuse, three days after being released from Maghaberry prison.
Acute alcohol poisoning also accounted for the death of another man just three days after he was released from Maghaberry.
Recommendations were made in one of the cases, along with 15 recommendations in relation to a long-term prisoner who died in hospital of a brain tumour having been released to receive medical treatment.
The ombudsman said: "The majority of the recommendations in these cases were procedural, relating to care plans, record keeping, communication, medication management, committal procedures and discharge arrangements".
The role of the ombudsman is to investigate and report on deaths in custody and complaints from prisoners.
During 2015-16 the office began investigations into two deaths in custody, one fewer than last year.
Both involved Maghaberry prisoners, with one appearing to be self-inflicted and the other due to natural causes.
There were no deaths in Magilligan, Hydebank Wood or Ash House during the year.
The office meanwhile received 1,593 complaints, an 11 per cent increase on the previous year.
The rise was attributed to 'separated' republican prisoners held in Roe House in Maghaberry Prison.
The number of republicans in Roe House has fallen to 25, compared to around 40 at its height earlier this year.
While making up only two per cent of the prison population, they accounted for 78 per cent of all complaints received.
"We investigated and reported on Roe 4 prisoners’ complaints, in the same way as all other complaints and in line with our duty of impartiality and independence," the ombudsman said.
"An intervention by the International Committee of the Red Cross during 2015 was unable to reach a resolution; and the murder of an off-duty prison officer (Adrian Ismay) in March 2016 was linked to the Roe 4 situation.
"It therefore remained difficult for our office to offer creative solutions to the situation that prevailed there."
The watchdog made a total of 128 recommendations for improvements in response to prisoners’ complaints during the last year - 52 had been accepted and 17 not accepted.
A total of 59 were still awaiting a response, of which 49 were overdue by up to a year.