Northern Ireland

Maghaberry prison: Follow-up inspection at 'most dangerous jail'

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Media captionA team of more than 20 inspectors spent almost two weeks assessing conditions at Maghaberry Prison, near Lisburn, in May

Inspectors return to Northern Ireland's Maghaberry jail, two months after it was labelled the most dangerous ever visited by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons.

A report by Criminal Justice Inspection and Her Majesty's Inspector of Prisons in England and Wales in November said the County Antrim jail was in crisis.

The report described it as unstable and unsafe for prisoners and staff.

More than 20 inspectors will assess what improvements have been made.

'Very worrying'

They will spend two weeks on their assessment, and hope to publish their findings before May.

The report published in November was the most critical ever about a prison in Northern Ireland.

At the time Nick Hardwick, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the jail was "the most dangerous" he had ever visited.

He described it as a "very worrying and disturbing public institution" and said Charles Dickens could write about Maghaberry "without batting an eyelid".

Image caption The prison houses men serving long sentences for serious offences as well as suspects who have been remanded in custody before trial

Brendan McGuigan, of Criminal Justice Inspection, said he was concerned that if the issues identified were not addressed as a matter of urgency, there could be "serious disorder or loss of life".

Stormont's Justice Minister David Ford and the director general of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, Sue McAllister, were shocked by the level of criticism.

In an unprecedented move, the inspectors announced that they would go back to the prison this month to check on progress.

'Dramatic improvements'

The follow-up inspection starts on Monday morning, as inspectors from Criminal Justice Inspection and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons return to the site.

They are being joined by members of the independent health watchdog the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) and the Education and Training Inspectorate.

The inspection report published two months ago was so bad there is an expectation that things can only get better.

The Department of Justice and the Northern Ireland Prison Service have both insisted that is the case.

They said there have been dramatic improvements in Maghaberry since the last time the inspectors paid a visit.

They will hope the inspectors agree.

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