Prisoner Ombudsmans Annual Report 2016-17

Published on June 13 2017

The Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland today published his Annual Report, which covers the period April 2016 - March 2017.

The role of the Ombudsman is to investigate and report on deaths in custody and prisoners’ complaints. During the reporting period the Ombudsman commenced investigations into five deaths in custody. One involved a prisoner at Magilligan and four involved Maghaberry prisoners. Three of the five deaths appeared to be self-inflicted.

Three of the Maghaberry prisoners died in November 2016. The chronological proximity generated understandable shock, especially as, at the time of their deaths none of the deceased was being managed under procedures for prisoners considered to be at imminent risk. Follow-up activity by the South Eastern Health & Social Care Trust and the Northern Ireland Prison Service to support other prisoners and staff was prompt and appropriate.

104 recommendations for improvement were made in death in custody reports and one case of serious self-harm. Over 90% of these were accepted. Since the incidence of self- inflicted deaths in custody is 8.6 times higher than in the general UK population, it is very important for the NIPS and SEHSCT to continuously review progress in implementing recommendations for improvement which they accept.

4,299 complaints were received from prisoners, a 25% increase on last year. However only 202 of these came from integrated prisoners and the others were multiple, identical complaints from separated prisoners on Roe 4 landing at Maghaberry prison. The reduction in integrated prisoners’ complaints was commensurate with a lower prison population. It may also be partially explained by a more stable regime in Maghaberry and improvement in complaints-handling there during the reporting period.

94 recommendations for improvement were made in relation to prisoners’ complaints and at the time of writing 64% of these had been accepted by the NIPS.

There was good progress towards placing the Prisoner Ombudsman’s office on a statutory footing and the Justice (No 2) Bill received royal assent in May 2016. It was therefore disappointing that underpinning Regulations could not be completed before dissolution of the Assembly on 26th January 2017.

The Ombudsman’s investigative staff complement was depleted by 40% during the second half of 2016 due to staff moves. However by March 2017 the team was almost back to full strength.

Tom McGonigle said, “I will retire from the role of Prisoner Ombudsman in August 2017 and it is encouraging to report some positive developments since taking up post over four years ago, especially the progress towards placing the office on a statutory footing. Nonetheless prisons here face many challenges and everyone must recommit to progressing along the path of reform that was set out by the Prison Review Team.”

The Prisoner Ombudsman concluded “I would like to acknowledge the contribution of staff in my office, the cooperation received from agencies with whom we work, and the levels of interest shown by politicians and the media throughout my tenure. Professional relationships are strong and this office is in good shape to fulfil its responsibilities. I wish my successor well in delivering an important public service in the future.”

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