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Hydebank jail concerns must not be dismissed out of hand

By Doug Beattie

Earlier this year I visited Hydebank College with my colleague, Councillor Julie Flaherty.

I was struck by the professionalism of the prison staff and indeed the approach by the Governor was progressive and challenging.

It was clear to me then that while prison officers' primary role was to keep students (inmates) safe and secure, they were more than just wardens. Prison officers had become role models for the inmates and were the primary focus for rehabilitation.

This dual role is not easy; they face violence, students self-harming and the ever present mental health issues.

It was clear when I visited that drug use and smuggling remained a major problem and there was a nervousness about the freedom of movement of students.

These new reports are troubling and I think it is important that the prison management and the prison service management board address these concerns.

If prison officers feel unsafe, then they must be listened to. I would also ask that the staffing levels are looked at again and I have been calling for similar actions over the last number of months.

I have high regard for Richard Taylor, but he must not dismiss these claims, purely because they haven't gone through a line manager. If he does, it will undermine modernisation of our prisons and our prison staff morale.

Doug Beattie MLA is the Ulster Unionist spokesman on justice issues

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