Belfast Telegraph

Jeffrey Donaldson slams cost of prison complaints

By Aaron Tinney

A fortune in taxpayers' money is being spent dealing with a deluge of prisoner complaints in Northern Ireland - which include objections about ceramic cups and electronic cigarettes not being available behind bars.

The Prisoner Ombudsman's office dealt with 1,593 complaints in 2015 to 2016 - an average of four a day.

The number of complaints rose by 11% from 2015 to 2016 compared to figures the previous year.

Last night, the DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson hit out at the "liberalisation" of the prison service and appealed for a more rigorous complaints process that blocked "triviality" from reaching the ombudsman's office and costing taxpayers' money to investigate.

The ombudsman's annual report, covering 2015 and 2016, reveals a number of prisoners complained about the withdrawal of ceramic cups from sale in Maghaberry tuckshop.

In another case, a prisoner complained he was unable to buy electronic cigarettes.

There was an operating budget of £579,000 for the prisoner ombudsman's office from 2015 to 2016 and it has 11 staff.

Tom McGonigle, who was appointed Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland in 2013, said in his latest report: "Our work is entirely demand-led, which means volumes are unpredictable.

"While complaint rates from Magilligan Prison, Ash House and Hydebank Wood remained very low, it is significant that there was a 25% increase in complaints from integrated prisoners at Maghaberry Prison.

"Around three quarters of all complaints came from separated republican prisoners held on Maghaberry's Roe 4 landing."

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