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Belfast Hydebank prison, home for killers Stewart and Crymble, 'no longer place you hear gates clanking'

By Rebecca Black

Published 28/09/2016

Outside Hydebank Wood College yesterday
Outside Hydebank Wood College yesterday
Reporter Rebecca Black talks to Sue McAllister, director general of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, and Marie-Therese McGivern, principal and chief executive, Belfast Metropolitan College
Seeing the work being done in the kitchen
Rebecca speaks to two inmates in the allotments
Picture - Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph Rebecca Black visits Hydebank Wood College on September 27th 2016 , Northern Ireland (Photo by Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)
Hazel Stewart
Jacqueline Crymble was jailed for a minimum 20 years

Hydebank prison has been transformed into one of the UK's first secure colleges.

Inmates - or students as they are called at the jail, which handles women and young offenders - include Hazel Stewart, who helped murder her husband and her lover Colin Howell's wife, Karen Walsh, who battered her elderly neighbour to death with a crucifix, and Jacqueline Crymble, who killed her husband Paul.

Outgoing Prison Service director Sue McAllister, who leaves her post in a month, said turning the facility around was one of her proudest achievements.

The Belfast Telegraph gained exclusive access to Hydebank, where some gates, bars and turnstiles have been removed to create a "more open welcoming environment, where you don't typically hear gates clanging".

Prisoners can roam freely around the complex for most of the day and are given access to education courses that are often beyond the reach of many outside the prison walls.

Killers can be seen flicking casually through the pages of fashion magazines like Cosmo, or puffing on a cigarette.

Upon admission every inmate is assessed for their risks, needs and strengths in terms of addiction issues, health and education, after which they receive an education plan and are encouraged to attend classes run by Belfast Met.

Maghaberry Prison has a similar programme run in partnership with Belfast Met, and Magilligan has a partnership with the North West College.

"At the college - Hydebank - all of the regime is built around learning and skills," Ms McAllister said.

"There is a presumption that every day people will attend learning and skills (classes), but they are all over 18 so you can't physically shoe-horn someone into a maths class and make them sit there.

Jacqueline Crymble was jailed for a minimum 20 years
Jacqueline Crymble was jailed for a minimum 20 years
Double murderer Hazel Stewart
Karen Walsh was jailed for the murder of Maire Rankin
Maire Rankin

"But what we have done is design a curriculum that doesn't expect people to sit for three hours in a class because these are people who have been turned off education and could no more sit in a class and pay attention for three hours than they could fly.

"So we actually design something that is more short bursts and also often embed that literacy and numeracy into other classes... more vocational things.

"You can do cookery, crafts, motor-based courses, painting and decorating and actually do some element of numeracy and literacy at the same time.

"You can get vocational qualifications as well, which can help you get a job on release.

"With the adult population in Maghaberry, for example, education would be oversubscribed. People actively want to do to classes because they recognise it's a way to engage in activity and not be stuck in your cell all day. But also it is genuinely doing quality stuff.

"If you consider it is not easy for people in the community often to access these courses, people genuinely see an opportunity to improve their skills and get themselves to a stage where they can look for jobs on their release.

"Once people start to get a certificate, even at a basic level, it is amazing what that does for self-esteem and self-worth."

There is a 90% attendance of classes at Hydebank and even waiting lists for some of the catering and art courses.

From September 2015 to July 2016, there were 418 student registrations and 177 full qualifications awarded at Hydebank, and 751 registrations and 558 accreditations at Maghaberry.

Ms McAllister said she set out on a prison reform programme on the back of a major report that made 40 recommendations to transform the Prison Service into one that had rehabilitation at its core.

"This was about our contribution to building a safer Northern Ireland through reducing re-offending," she added.

Belfast Met principal Marie-Therese McGivern said Hydebank was a "very different place" to when she first visited in 2013.

"We felt there was huge things that could be done, certainly in terms of education," she added, although she admitted there had been some reluctance initially within the college.

"It ticked the boxes of what we stand for," she explained. "Belfast Met is open to everyone, we provide a wide range of courses and we believe fundamentally that work takes people out of disadvantage."

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