Prisoner Ombudsman’s Annual Report 2018-2019

Published on October 01 2019

The Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland has today published her 2018-19 annual report.

The report provides an account of the work of the Office of the Prisoner Ombudsman in dealing with deaths in custody and prisoner complaints. The deaths in custody team also investigates post release deaths and incidents of serious self-harm.

During the reporting period, April 2018-March 2019, the Prisoner Ombudsman commenced investigations into eight deaths in custody. Three involved prisoners at Magilligan and there were five deaths at Maghaberry prison.

During the year, 6 investigations were completed by the deaths in custody team and 5 reports were published. In total, 35 recommendations for improvement were made in four of the investigation reports. 31 of these recommendations, almost 90%, were accepted by the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust and the Northern Ireland Prison Service.

The year brought a very significant increase of 74%, in complaints from prisoners. Of the 408 complaints received, 53% came from the integrated prisoners at Maghaberry Prison. The Prisoner Ombudsman’s Office continues to work to improve standards and contribute to safe and purposeful prison regimes by bringing forward recommendations to enable those who provide services into prisons, including the Prison Service, to direct attention towards areas where improvement is most urgently required. In addition to the 35 recommendations made following death in custody investigations, 140 recommendations were made following investigations into complaints. 89% of those recommendations were accepted at the time of writing this report.

Lesley Carroll, the Prisoner Ombudsman, commented:

“The independent investigations carried out by my office aim to ensure that prisoners are treated decently and with respect and that they, and their loved ones, can have confidence that their safety and rehabilitation is of the greatest importance to the Prison Service.”

Acknowledging the high level of complaints to her office, Dr Carroll said:

“I pay tribute to the work of the staff. In my view, complaints reflect a healthy regime in which prisoners feel confident to bring forward their concerns and have them properly addressed.”

Dr Carroll expressed disappointment, expressed by previous Ombudsmen, that the process for placing the Prisoner Ombudsman’s office on a statutory footing, while it had progressed through the Northern Ireland Assembly and while the Justice (No 2) Bill had received royal assent in May 2016, the underpinning Regulations could not be completed before dissolution of the Assembly on 26th January 2017. She also placed thanks on record to Brendan McGuigan who had oversight of the Office in the absence of a successor to the previous Prisoner Ombudsman, Tom McGonigle, who retired from post on 31 August 2017.

Notes to editors:

  • The role of the Prisoner Ombudsman is to investigate deaths in custody and complaints from prisoners. Additionally, the Prisoner Ombudsman may investigate post-release deaths within 14 days of release and incidents of serious self-harm within prisons.
  • The Northern Ireland Prisoner Ombudsman’s Office was established in 2005 and is in the process of being placed on a statutory footing through the Justice Act (NI) 2016. Statutory footing will increase the independence of the Office of the Prisoner Ombudsman, grant some additional powers and strengthen processes.
  • With regard to deaths in custody, the Ombudsman aims to provide the facts of the case and publish all material that is necessary to serve the public interest. This is balanced against legal obligations in respect of privacy for everyone concerned, the views of the family of the deceased in relation to disclosure of the identity of the deceased, and all matters of privacy protected in law. Where appropriate death in Custody reports will be anonymised and properly redacted.
  • With regard to complaints, the Ombudsman investigates complaints from prisoners, visitors to prisons and former prisoners, when the internal processes have been exhausted.

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