Prison inspector concerned at lack of progress adressing problems at HMP Magilligan

Prison inspectors have voiced concern at progress against recommendations made at HMP Magilligan in Co Londonderry.

Prison inspectors have voiced concern at progress against recommendations made at HMP Magilligan in Co Londonderry. More progress was found to have been made at HMP Maghaberry in Co Antrim but inspectors concluded there remains “much to do” to address priority and key concerns identified. The conclusions come following the first Independent Reviews of Progress (IRPs) to be carried out by Inspectors at Maghaberry and Magilligan following critical inspection reports.

Inspection teams from Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI), His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons in England and Wales (HMI Prisons), the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) and the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) undertook the IRPs in October and November 2023. They examined progress against 12 areas of concern identified during the 2022 unannounced inspection of Maghaberry and 14 of the recommendations in the 2021 inspection report on Magilligan. Jacqui Durkin, chief inspector of criminal justice in Northern Ireland and Charlie Taylor, chief inspector of prisons in England and Wales, said overall they judged Maghaberry to have made “reasonably good progress”. They expressed disappointment that more progress has not been made at Magilligan. The inspectors said at Maghaberry, the installation of body scanners and reintroduction of mandatory drug testing had helped reduce the level of drugs and other contraband being smuggled into the prison. However, they said prison leaders “did not yet have a co-ordinated plan to tackle this issue and there remained a problem with illicit substances including with the trade and abuse of medication”. “We were concerned that, despite some steps being taken to improve the approach to adult safeguarding, there had not been effective collaboration between prison and health care leaders and we found cases where the approach to safeguarding was not effective,” they said. “There needed to be urgent action to address this important issue. Much also remained to be done to support prisoner rehabilitation and planning for their release.” They described a more mixed picture at Magilligan with either good or reasonable progress made against half of the recommendations being followed up, but insufficient progress or no meaningful progress in the remaining seven areas. “This was a concern,” they said. “Progress in addressing the key concern related to illicit substances had been too slow and, while there had been improvements in the complaints process, formal consultation with prisoners remained poor and little had been done to address poor perceptions of staff victimisation, which was a recommendation we first made in 2017. “Effective systems were now in place to improve cleanliness and the prisoner development unit was operating better than during our last visit. Progress had been made against recommendations related to the delivery of education provision but much more needed to be done.” They said Magilligan has the potential to be a model establishment but contended that the governor and leaders in the Northern Ireland Prison Service “needed to address recommendations with greater vigour and be more robust in their assessment of how outcomes for prisoners were being improved”.

The inspectors concluded: “We do not underestimate the challenges faced by leaders in the Northern Ireland Prison Service and its service partners, particularly with the current prison population numbers and resource challenges to drive improvement, and it was evident that leaders, managers and staff had taken some steps to respond to the respective inspection findings. “However, ambition and action are needed to support prisoners leaving custody healthier, more employable, making better choices and less likely to return to prison.”

Justice Minister Naomi Long said inspectors play a “vital role in holding us to account and offering scrutiny and focus on issues to be addressed”. She said prisons are facing challenges with a rising prisoner population, many with complex needs including addiction and poor mental health.

“It is a sad fact that people in prison are more likely to have a history of drug use than people in the wider community,” she said. “Prison staff work tirelessly to disrupt the flow of illegal substances into the jails, as well as supporting recovery from addiction. “These issues make supporting the vital work of rehabilitation increasingly difficult.”

She added: “However prisons are making progress. Since their introduction in March last year, the X-ray body scanners have had a major impact on stemming the flow of drugs and illegal substances coming into prisons. This helps to keep both staff and prisoners safer. “The Prison Service is committed to maintaining strong partnerships with colleagues in the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust and the Department of Health, particularly in seeking to disrupt the trade of medication within prisons.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.