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Mind-altering drugs availability 'could mean more self-harm at Maghaberry jail'

Published 17/11/2016

More shocking self-harm cannot be ruled out at Maghaberry jail, MLAs heard
More shocking self-harm cannot be ruled out at Maghaberry jail, MLAs heard

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 and Social Care 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 and extreme self harm during detention at Maghaberry jail 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 and highlighted concerns about the level of care he received.

Officials from the South Eastern Health Trust, which is responsible for healthcare provision in hospitals, 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 the findings of this review and receive their feedback.

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 jail in Co Londonderry said major reform was needed at Maghaberry to address the drugs problem.

"Maghaberry is not an environment conducive to anybody," she added.

"I have worked in all three prisons.

"I currently work in Magilligan. 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 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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