Important lessons on preventing deaths and self-harm at Maghaberry Prison have not been learned, according to an inspection.
The prison has seen a series of inmates taking their own life and the deaths have focused attention on the prison’s treatment of those at risk.
Despite a reduction in the overall number of men self-harming behind bars at the high-security facility, inspectors still had significant concerns.
Chief inspector Brendan McGuigan said the continued lack of a safer custody strategy remained an issue, and further work was required by the wider criminal justice and healthcare systems to provide alternatives to custody for highly vulnerable prisoners.
However, he noted the drive, determination, innovation and creativity shown by the leadership team and staff to stabilise the prison, to improve outcomes for those committed to their care, and implement nine recommendations made by inspectors two years ago.
Mr McGuigan, who is the chief inspector of criminal justice in Northern Ireland, said the day-to-day regime was more stable and reliable with fewer restrictions around movement and activity.
Progress was also found in education and healthcare.
The chief inspector also voiced his support for the work ongoing to stem the flow of illegal drugs into the prison.
However, he added: “The misuse of prescription medication and the tendency of some prisoners to experiment with any substance available to get a ‘high’ remains an issue.”
Mr McGuigan further said: “Maghaberry prison does not provide a therapeutic environment.
“We were therefore concerned to find the prison was being used as a safe place by the courts while mental health assessments took place.
“In our view, this is inappropriate and we have recommended the Departments of Justice and Health should develop an agreed pathway to prevent individuals being admitted to prison for an emergency mental health assessment.”
Head of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, Ronnie Armour, said Maghaberry will continue to build on progress to ensure all people in custody are given the right support to help them rehabilitate.