Significant risks remain at Maghaberry Prison, say inspectors
Little has been done to help vulnerable prisoners or tackle drug abuse at Northern Ireland's only high security jail, inspectors have found.
The review by the Criminal Justice Inspectorate (CJI) has raised significant concerns over support for inmates suffering mental health difficulties and the availability of illegal and prescription drugs at Maghaberry Prison.
Chief inspector Brendan McGuigan said: "While the inspection team welcome the progress that has been made and the momentum to deliver change at Maghaberry which has built up since May 2015, I reiterate our view that significant risks remain, particularly around prisoner safety, which have the potential to drag the prison back to where it was 18 months ago."
The review comes in the wake of two suspected suicides at the Co Antrim facility over recent weeks.
Prison chiefs were also heavily criticised in a damning Ombudsman report after an inmate blinded himself during an extreme episode of self-harm in the prison two years ago.
Mr McGuigan said: "Inspectors found that while mental health support and assistance provided to new prisoners has improved since January 2016, there was still no overall safer joint custody strategy in place to comprehensively address safety issues, for those who were vulnerable.
"This is a serious omission which was impeding work in tackling vulnerability."
A death in custody action plan was not being monitored to ensure that adequate support was provided to those at risk of suicide or self-harm, it was also found. Although Maghaberry's drug problem has been well documented, inspectors noted no significant progress in dealing with the issue.
Mr McGuigan added: "The high level of prescription drug availability and use by prisoners remains a significant concern, especially given the volume of divertible medication held by prisoners themselves, which can result in vulnerable prisoners being bullied by others to hand over their medication.
"There were also problems in accessing addiction services and no co-ordinated, recovery-based approach to addressing the significant substance misuse issues which exist within the prison population."
Last week medics from the South Eastern Health Trust, which provides healthcare in prisons, warned further episodes of extreme self-harm could not be ruled out because up to 60 mind-altering substances were being abused.