The Prison Service’s ability to manage vulnerable inmates has been slammed in a damning report into the attempted suicide of a prisoner at Northern Ireland’s highest security jail.
The Prison Ombudsman investigation into the circumstances surrounding the inmate’s suicide attempt in Maghaberry last year — which has left him with severe brain injuries and complex physical disabilities — is the latest in a long list of probes that have raised concern over the treatment of at-risk prisoners.
Prisoner Ombudsman Pauline McCabe said the report released yesterday into the near death of the 30-year-old inmate “poses fundamental questions about the effectiveness of the Prison Service and the (South Eastern Health and Social Care) Trust’s approach to managing vulnerable prisoners”. The prisoner, who is referred to as ‘Mr C’ in the report to protect his identity, attempted to hang himself in his prison cell in February last year after becoming paranoid that prison staff and other inmates were plotting to kill him because of his convictions for sex offences.
With a history of alcohol abuse and attempted suicides, he has been in and out of prison for most of his adult life.
When he was in Maghaberry Prison last year for breaching the terms of a probation licence, the Prison Service and the South Eastern Health and Social Service’s Trust were aware of his previous suicide attempts and mental health problems. They were also aware of his paranoia that prison staff and other prisoners were going to try and kill him.
On the day of his attempted suicide, eight days after his committal, he was being observed every 15 minutes in his cell by warders.
However, later that evening one officer was busy with paperwork and did not check on him for 29 minutes, during which time he attempted to hang himself.
He was found collapsed in his cell by prison officers who resuscitated him.
The Prisoner Ombudsman’s probe into the inmate’s near death found more than 40 areas of concern in relation to vulnerable prisoners.
Ms McCabe said that despite Mr C’s history and number of self-harm risk factors while in custody, he was confined to his cell for long periods with very limited human contact.
Ms McCabe has called for a further review of how vulnerable prisoners are dealt with.
Controversial jail suicides:
- Aaron Hogg: The 21-year-old inmate at Maghaberry Prison died by suicide on May 22, 2011. A probe by the Prisoner Ombudsman found “significant issues of concern” in connection with his care, as well as concern over misuse of drugs in jail.
- Frances McKeown: The 23-year-old mother-of-two died by suicide on May 4, 2011, while on remand in Hydebank Wood. A Prisoner Ombudsman report found “serious shortfalls in his care”.
- Patrick Gerald Duffy: Died of a drugs overdose while in Maghaberry Prison in June 2011.