Prisoner complaints double in year
The number of complaints made by inmates in Northern Ireland's prisons more than doubled in the last year, the Prisoner Ombudsman has said.
A total of 328 eligible grievances were received from prisoners in Maghaberry, Magilligan and Hydebank Wood up to the start of April this year.
Lockdowns, general conditions, night checks, family contact and problems with staff were raised with Ombudsman Pauline McCabe.
Mrs McCabe said: "The past year has seen a surge in the number of complaints. On the one hand, this demonstrates increased confidence in the fair and objective approach of my office. However, more significantly it highlights the many respects in which the current regime in our prisons is in need of reform.
"The single biggest issue, and the issue which has caused me most concern, is the significant number of lockdowns and periods of restricted regime that prisoners have experienced, along with the consequent failure to deliver privileges earned."
The 328 eligible complaints received between April last year and March this year represent a 128 per cent increase on the previous year`s total of 144.
The issue of lockdowns has also featured heavily in recent death in custody investigation reports with Allyn Baxter left in his cell for 22 hours a day in the days before he hanged himself at Hydebank. Short staffing of wardens and restrictive working practices were partly blamed.
Mrs McCabe added: "The way Northern Ireland's prisons are run continues to be affected by its historical legacy and decades of conflict, with shortcomings in human resources policies and working practices, and major issues relating to management, leadership, culture and industrial relations.
"There are fundamental issues to be faced, addressed and overcome before we have a service which is fit for purpose. The recent report by Anne Owers and her review team, which pointed out a compelling series of solutions and recommendations, will make a crucial contribution to addressing these challenges.
"We have the opportunity now to do things differently and it really is time to decide what we want."