Outgoing Ombudsman Commends Commitment to Prison Reform

Published on May 15 2013

The outgoing Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, Pauline McCabe, has today published her final Annual Report.

The Prisoner Ombudsman’s Annual Report 2012-13 outlines the work of the Office throughout the course of the past year in carrying out independent and impartial investigation of all deaths in prison custody and complaints from prisoners, or prison visitors, who remain unhappy with how their complaint has been responded to by the Northern Ireland Prison Service.

Releasing the report today, Mrs McCabe said: 

“Prison reform is now underway and there is widespread recognition of, and commitment to, the need for change. I am proud of the role that the Office has played in developing awareness of the need for reform and my hope as I conclude my role as Prisoner Ombudsman is that the reform programme will continue to be implemented with zealous determination and dedication by everyone who has a role to play. There have certainly been a number of encouraging developments. In particular, the severance and recruitment programmes are well under way; new rationalised structures, staff profiles and shift patterns are being implemented; and a change team with responsibility for producing a forward plan is now doing its work. However, there is still much to be done and a number of factors are significantly impacting upon the quality of regime offered to prisoners.  Crucially, there are far too many prisoners with not enough to do and the work required to deliver a programme of purposeful, rehabilitative activity for every prisoner must be taken forward with great urgency.”

A total of 407 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 almost 10 per cent on the previous year. Complaints covered a wide range of issues including, family visits and telephone arrangements, lockdowns or access to regime activities and the operation of the prisoner incentive scheme.

During 2012-2013, the Prisoner Ombudsman’s Office also published investigation reports into the deaths in custody of six prisoners and completed the first ‘near death’ investigation following an attempted death by suicide at Maghaberry Prison. There are currently eight ongoing death in custody investigations, with the number of deaths in Northern Ireland’s prisons since 2005 currently standing at 42.

Mrs McCabe, who has held the position of Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland since September 2008, will be concluding her final term of Office on 31st May 2013.

Commenting on her role, Mrs McCabe said:

“It has been an honour to have been Prisoner Ombudsman and I wish the incoming post holder every success in undertaking this important and rewarding position.  Five years on, the operation of the Office is now one of much greater efficiency, effectiveness and accessibility and I am confident that the role played by the Office of the Prisoner Ombudsman can continue to go from strength to strength. I am therefore pleased to note that the Department of Justice’s work to prepare a draft consultation paper to place the Office of the Prisoner Ombudsman on a statutory footing is almost complete. Given the job we do in carrying out substantial serious incident and death in custody investigations and assisting the State in delivering its human rights obligations, I cannot emphasise enough the need to progress this issue urgently.”

The Prisoner Ombudsman’s Office was established in 2005 and reports directly to the Minister of Justice but does not have a statutory basis in legislation.