Annual Report - April 2010 to March 2011

Published on June 23 2011


The number of eligible complaints made by inmates in Northern Ireland’s prisons more than doubled in the last year, according to figures being published today by the Prisoner Ombudsman, Pauline McCabe.

A total of 328 eligible complaints were received from prisoners in Maghaberry, Magilligan and Hydebank Wood over the 12-month period ending in March this year, an increase of 128% on the previous year.

Lockdowns, and their impact, accounted for much of the increase, followed by issues relating to general conditions, night checks, family contact and complaints about staff.

The Office also investigates deaths in custody. According to the Annual Report, 29 people have died in Northern Ireland’s prisons since 2005. All but one was male. Suicide accounted for 10 of these deaths, three were drugs-related, and the bulk of the rest resulted from natural causes/illness.

In the year to end-March, the Prisoner Ombudsman’s office investigated and reported on the deaths of nine prisoners. A tenth – the report into the death in custody of Allyn Baxter at Hydebank Wood – was published last week. A further six investigations are ongoing.

Speaking ahead of the launch of the Annual Report, Mrs McCabe, said:

“The past year has seen a surge in the number of complaints. On the one hand, this demonstrates increased confidence in the fair and objective approach of my office. However, more significantly it highlights the many respects in which the current regime in our prisons is in need of reform.

“The single biggest issue, and the issue which has caused me most concern, is the significant number of lockdowns and periods of restricted regime that prisoners have experienced, along with the consequent failure to deliver privileges earned.

“The issue of lockdowns has also featured heavily in recent death in custody investigation reports.”

“The way Northern Ireland’s prisons are run continues to be affected by its historical legacy and decades of conflict, with shortcomings in human resources policies and working practices, and major issues relating to management, leadership, culture and industrial relations.

“There are fundamental issues to be faced, addressed and overcome before we have a service which is fit for purpose. The recent report by Anne Owers and her Review Team, which pointed out a compelling series of solutions and recommendations, will make a crucial contribution to addressing these challenges.

“We have the opportunity now to do things differently and it really is time to decide what we want.” -

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