Northern Ireland

Post-custody deaths in Northern Ireland to be investigated

Gate in Maghaberry Prison

The number of ex-prisoners dying shortly after leaving custody is to be investigated at a high level.

It comes after BBC News NI revealed 23 people died in Northern Ireland within a fortnight of being released from jail over the past five years.

A further 23 people died in custody between 2014 and 2019. Many deaths are linked to substance addiction.

After release, ex-inmates can be given medication for up to two weeks if they are not registered with a GP.

They can then "go off the radar", according to minutes of a meeting obtained by BBC News NI.

The minutes also show the authorities are not always immediately informed about post-custody deaths and there is "a lack of communication links with GP surgeries".

The Post-Release Deaths Project is a collaboration between prison, probation and court services, as well as the South Eastern Health Trust.

The initiative is being set up to provide further details on the cause of death of former prisoners to "better inform custodial interventions".

During a meeting between several criminal justice agencies in October 2019, a number of concerns were raised about the vulnerability of inmates following their release.

The minutes of this meeting also show plans were made to work with the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency to track deaths of former prisoners.

It was attended by the head of the Northern Ireland Prison Service Ronnie Armour and Prison Ombudsman Dr Lesley Caroll.

Image copyright Gannet77
Image caption About 80% of inmates in Maghaberry Prison, Northern Ireland's largest jail, are on prescription medication

Dr Carroll previously called for more to be done to ensure ex-inmates have access to services such as GPs, addiction support and housing.

The Prison Service said it had no further comment to make on the issues raised at the meeting.

Approximately 80% of inmates in Maghaberry Prison, Northern Ireland's largest jail, are on prescription medication.

In recent years, a number of critical reports have said more needs to be done to protect vulnerable prisoners and to prevent deaths in custody in Northern Ireland.

The family of one prisoner from west Belfast, who died in hospital after attempting to take his own life in Hydebank Wood Prison, previously said they believed he had been "badly let down" by the authorities.

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