Northern Ireland

Belfast's Hydebank Wood prisons 'not good enough'

Image caption Hydebank Wood houses a women's prison and young offenders centre

Performance at two of Northern Ireland's prisons is not good enough, inspectors have said.

They have made more than 150 recommendations for improvements at the women's prison and young offenders centre at Hydebank Wood in Belfast.

The inspectors said they had "significant concerns" that both prisons were in a "downward spiral".

About 180 young men are held at Hydebank, NI's main young offenders centre.

About 70 women are in a separate facility on the same site.

Inspectors visited in February this year and assessed performance in the areas of safety, respect, purposeful activity and resettlement.

"It is the fourth time we have inspected Hydebank Wood. In 2005, at the first inspection, I was raising the same issues," Brendan McGuigan of Criminal Justice Inspection said.

The greatest cause for concern surrounds the safety of prisoners, Mr McGuigan said.

"We already know many people in the system have mental health issues and they are very vulnerable. They need to be given a regime that supports their rehabilitation," he said.

"It is the fourth time we have inspected Hydebank Wood in 2005. At the first inspection, I was raising the same issues."

Culture change

Media captionBrendan McGuigan said there is a lack of 'purposeful activity' at Hydebank Wood

Mr McGuigan said that changing the culture of the prisons was a significant challenge.

"There has been significant under-investment in the development of people to take over the Northern Ireland prison service. We need people who know what success looks like."

He said change was vital. "The current regime is not making them (prisoners) better. It is not good enough. That is not what we want as a society."

In response, Prison Service director general Sue McAllister said there had been major changes since the inspection was carried out and a new management team was in place.

"I knew when I took this job there was a significant programme of change and I knew the scale of the challenge," Ms McAllister said.

"I am exercised and I am confident that we now have a team in place to reform this service."

Ms McAllister said the report acknowledged that there were examples of good staff-prisoner relationships.

She said a senior governor had been seconded to Brendan McGuigan's team in order to bring some of the good practice that they had identified and another governor was working in a prison in another jurisdiction. Masterclasses were also being held in an effort to reform the system.

"We are now investing heavily in our leaders and I agree that we all now need to understand what success looks like," she said.

Two reports published on Tuesday make a combined 156 recommendations for improvement.

There are criticisms of the approach to tackling drugs, a failure to learn lessons from deaths in custody and what is called excessive strip searching of women prisoners.

"It's the excessive strip searching of female prisoners, especially when returning from family visits, that caused concern," Mr McGuigan added.

"We understand checks have to be made to ensure there isn't contraband being brought in. But I think a risk assessment will assess who indeed presents the risk rather than every prisoner having to go through this process."

Dr Linda Moore, from the University of Ulster, published a previous report on how women and young offenders are treated in our prisons.

She said that problems would continue until more managers were recruited from outside Northern Ireland.

"We need to bring in people who have got experience of different prison systems in different jurisdictions. I am not convinced that there has been a shift in the culture," she said.

"The change in culture has happened for some officers, some are really trying to work with prisoners and engage with them. But not enough are.

"We are still hearing about a general disrespect to prisoners. The impression I get is that there are many who have not made the required shift. That needs to be looked at."

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