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Prison service in crisis as another Maghaberry inmate dies

By Allan Preston

Published 01/12/2016

Finlay Spratt has called for increased staffing
Finlay Spratt has called for increased staffing
Doug Beattie has called for increased staffing

A prisoner who died at Maghaberry yesterday morning was the third inmate to die at the maximum security facility within a month.

The 34 year-old man was a remand prisoner in Quoile House and is understood to have died of a drugs overdose in his cell.

His death follows the suicides of two prisoners in the past month - convicted killer Barry Cavan and Gerard Mulligan who was on remand suspected of causing the death of his father.

In total, six prisoners have now died in Maghaberry over a period of 12 months, with four of them taking their own life.

The Northern Ireland Prison Service confirmed yesterday afternoon the man's next of kin have been informed and an investigation into his death had been launched.

Acting Prison Service Director General Phil Wragg said: "I would like to extend my sympathy and that of the Northern Ireland Prison Service to the family of the prisoner. My thoughts are with them at this difficult time."

Finlay Spratt, chair of the Prison Officers Association, passed on his condolences to the family.

"We don't know the circumstances behind it. I just feel sorry for the staff that work there and the families concerned," he said.

"It's something the staff don't need. They do their best.

"It just shows how vigilant our staff are that they came across him in a very short space of time after it happened."

Mr Spratt said cuts to the Prison Service made keeping drugs out of the prison system even more difficult.

"I believe it's down to the shortage of staff and the lack of security and searching because there's no staff there to do it," he said.

"I think they've cut the Prison Service down so far in staffing levels, you only have to look across the UK to see what happened.

"It will happen in Northern Ireland too because we have the same systems. They've reduced the operating costs of the NI Prison Service since 2012 by £52million, what does that tell you? We had a staffing level of around 1,600 in 2012 and it's down now to around 1,300. So there's 300 staff out of the system yet we're locking up the same amount of prisoners."

Last month prison officers in Maghaberry and Magilligan voted in favour of industrial action up to and including striking, with officers in Hydebank voting against action.

Mr Spratt said a decision has yet to be taken on what form any industrial protest would take.

Last year Maghaberry was ranked among the most dangerous jails in the UK after a damning inspection.

Prison authorities were also heavily criticised in a recent Ombudsman report after an inmate inflicted extreme self-harm on himself in June 2014.

Last month Stormont ministers announced a review of how vulnerable prisoners are monitored after a number of recent suicides and self-harm incidents.

Ulster Unionist Party MLA Doug Beattie said news of the latest death "confirms that there is a crisis" in the Northern Ireland prison system.

"First of all, our sympathies must go to the family of the prisoner who has been found dead in his cell at Maghaberry," he said.

"Whatever the exact circumstance was, it is simply not acceptable that people who are incarcerated within a state institution are dying on such a regular basis. This is the third fatality in the month of November. That fact alone must surely shake away any complacency amongst those in charge of our prison system.

"There is a crisis in our prison service which deserves the full attention of the Executive, the Minister for Justice and prison management. There is an immediate need to increase staffing levels and instigate safety measures requested by HMP Maghaberry Prison Officer Association when they met with the First Minister on October 10, 2016."

He added: "How many more prisoners have to lose their lives before our Executive realises there is a real crisis within our prisons that will not go away until decisive and strategic action is taken?"

by allan preston

Belfast Telegraph

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