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Jail drug problem may lead to more self-harming, MLAs told

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Published 18/11/2016

The prevalence of mind-altering drugs means more shocking incidents of self-harm cannot be ruled out at Maghaberry Prison, MLAs have been told
The prevalence of mind-altering drugs means more shocking incidents of self-harm cannot be ruled out at Maghaberry Prison, MLAs have been told

The prevalence of mind-altering drugs means more shocking incidents of self-harm cannot be ruled out at Maghaberry Prison, MLAs have been told.

The warning came as officials from the South Eastern Health Trust said lessons had been learnt after a mentally ill prisoner blinded himself at the high security facility two years ago.

Dr Ian Bownes told Stormont's justice committee some 60 "novel psychoactive substances" including "crystal meth" and "chinawhite" were being abused by prisoners. He said: "If these substances are available then you cannot discount an episode such as this happening again."

A damning report by the Prisoner Ombudsman found Sean Lynch (23) inflicted shocking self-harm during detention at Maghaberry in June 2014.

It said warders did not step in quickly enough during the hour-long ordeal because of security concerns and failed to realise the seriousness of his injuries.

Officials from the trust, which is responsible for healthcare provision in the prison, accepted the findings and recommendations in the Ombudsman's report. The trust also commissioned an independent review and met Mr Lynch and his family to discuss it.

Elaine Cole, a nursing manager with 17 years' experience, said she had been disturbed by what happened but cautioned that preventing a repeat of the tragedy could not be guaranteed.

She said: "I didn't know what self-harm was until I came in to work as a nurse in a prison. The harm that Sean caused himself was unprecedented.

"I hope we have learnt from it. Will it happen again? We can't say whether it won't because of these drugs and because of the chaotic behaviour that they present with."

Ms Cole, who works at Magilligan said major reform was needed at Maghaberry to address the drugs problem.

"I have seen patients who I have dealt with in Maghaberry who have been disruptive, who have taken drugs, who have fought against the system who then are transferred down to Magilligan and, within a matter of weeks, are different people.

"If they are locked in their cell all day they are going to look for drugs because that's the only way they can get their head around it. But if they can get out of their cell and have out of cell activity that is the key. Until Maghaberry is in a position to do that, it's never going to be fixed, no matter how many nursing staff we put in, no matter how many psychiatrists or any of that. Unless we change the environment, we are not going to change it."

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