Bullying on the rise as drugs supply allegedly grows at Hydebank Wood College
Drugs are becoming more readily available at a young offenders' centre in Northern Ireland, an inspection has found.
Unpredictable and life-threatening new psychoactive substances which mimic the effects of cannabis, heroin or amphetamines are allegedly entering Hydebank Wood College. Synthetic cannabis not detected by normal drugs tests was also used, prisoners and staff told reviewers.
The supply is leading to bullying and intimidation, according to Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland.
However the watchdog commended the Northern Ireland Prison Service for delivering significant improvements in outcomes and greater emphasis on rehabilitation.
It said: " Nevertheless, more young men than at our previous inspection told us they felt unsafe.
"Those we spoke to told us that the increased availability of drugs and concentrations of young men with very challenging behaviour were leading to bullying and intimidation.
"There were early signs that new psychoactive substances were entering the prison, further adding to safety concerns."
Hydebank houses young people aged 18-21 in Belfast and focuses on education and employment.
Inspections of Hydebank and Ash House, Northern Ireland's women's prison, were conducted in May by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons, the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority and the Education and Training Inspectorate.
The independent experts said w ork to address problems with drugs remained under-developed and needed to be urgently improved to ensure those held were kept safe and could maximise the opportunities presented .
"In addition, violence reduction work needed to be more co-ordinated to ensure the challenges faced were better understood, and effectively addressed."
It said initiatives to limit the drug supply were weak. There is a joint effort with the PSNI in an attempt to deter drugs being brought through visits.
"The young men and staff said drugs, including synthetic cannabis (a man-made drug that mimics the effects of cannabis but is much stronger with no discernible odour and cannot be detected by drug tests) and illicit medication, were easily available.
"Random Mandatory Drug Testing (MDT) positive rates were not excessive but when refusals were included, it did point to significant concerns about the illicit use of drugs."
Brendan McGuigan, chief inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland and Peter Clarke, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons in England and Wales, said a major shift had occurred in the ethos of the facilities.
"In contrast with the concerning findings highlighted in 2013, inspectors found there was a clear focus on providing enhanced educational and learning opportunities on the site.
"This vision centered on helping both young men and women prisoners break the cycle of reoffending and offering assistance in the process of rehabilitation to help offenders live a more purposeful, law-abiding life on release."
Inspectors found performance at Hydebank Wood Secure College and Ash House had improved or been maintained in areas like safety and resettlement compared to 2013.
Justice minister Claire Sugden said: "The positive results of this latest inspection are testament to the work of all the staff at Hydebank Wood to transform the centre into the first secure college in the UK.
"By placing education at the centre of its work, staff encourage people in custody to address their offending behaviour and help prepare them to play a constructive role when they return to the community."