Belfast Telegraph

Suicide inmate in cell most of day

A teenage prisoner was locked in his cell for around 22 hours a day because of short-staffing before he committed suicide.

Allyn Baxter, 19, from Lisburn, hanged himself at Hydebank Wood Prison and Young Offenders Centre, Belfast, on July 31 last year. He was at increased risk of suicide with a history of substance abuse and self-harm but was left locked up in a prison under-staffed because most wardens did not do a full week on the front line and sickness levels were high.

Prisoner Ombudsman Pauline McCabe has published her report into the death. She said: "Of particular concern is the extended length of time in which Allyn, a vulnerable prisoner, was locked in his cell.

"Long periods of lockdown, in my view, do nothing to address offending behaviour and are the enemy of the vulnerable.

"While it is not possible to say that the final outcome would have been different if Allyn had not been locked up for such long periods, evidence clearly shows that lower rates of death by suicide are associated with higher rates of purposeful activity."

She said the fact that any newly committed teenager spent so little time out of the cell and had such limited access to purposeful activity was a matter of concern.

Attention was drawn to the issue in the recent report by a prison review team lead by Dame Anne Owers, underlining the case for fundamental reform. It found that each officer in Hydebank was taking around four weeks a year off sick and only 28 hours a week were spent on frontline duties.

This is the second consecutive death in custody report from the Prisoner Ombudsman in which the death of a vulnerable prisoner or inmate in Northern Ireland has occurred within five days of committal. In both of these deaths, the prisoners spent excessively long periods alone in their cells.

Mrs McCabe`s 113-page report calls for a programme of change with high-level political support, setting out clear priorities and using external experts.

Mr Baxter was a remand inmate accused of disorderly behaviour and assaulting police. He was admitted to the south Belfast centre on July 28 last year and was found dead on July 31.

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