Belfast Telegraph

Action needed over Hydebank concerns

Editor's Viewpoint

The latest revelations about Hydebank, the Northern Ireland prison for women and young men, make disturbing reading.

In today's newspaper, we report claims that the supply and use of drugs are rife in this establishment, and that staff are frequently subjected to attacks.

These have quadrupled since freedom of movement for inmates was introduced in 2012, and during the past five years the number of prison officers at Hydebank has almost halved.

Staff have told the Belfast Telegraph about the serious incidents that have been taking place. They claim one member was scalded with a flask of boiling water, while other assaults include head-butts, punches, kicks, bites and other violent attacks.

All of this is taking place within the context of a prison service under great pressure, with a number of prisoner deaths taking place at Maghaberry in recent times.

The public is repeatedly told of low staff morale as they struggle to control a potentially chaotic situation in which they appear to be constantly under attack.

The latest developments in Hydebank are particularly worrying, with claims that the situation there is worse since it became a "secure college" rather than a "young offenders' centre".

The old-style draconian system led only to inmates emerging from the prison as hardened criminals, and this failure led to an attempt to develop a more enlightened policy in many areas of prison administration.

However, a balance must be struck between reform and the reality that a prison is where an individual has been sent as a punishment for wrong-doing.

It is not easy for the authorities to strike the right balance, and clearly Hydebank has some good points which were recognized by recent awards.

However, it is worrying that the Governor Richard Taylor says that the issues outlined by staff in the Belfast Telegraph have not been raised with him.

He would do well to take the advice of the MLA Doug Beattie that the prison and the prison service management board should address these concerns.

For a myriad of reasons the staff feel unsafe, and the whole situation needs to be addressed as firmly and as constructively as possible.

No doubt funding remains a long-term problem, but the general prison culture is the priority issue that really needs to be tackled.

Belfast Telegraph

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