Belfast Telegraph

Keeping inmates occupied is key to rehabilitation, says new governor at Maghaberry

By Michael McHugh

The new governor at Maghaberry Prison said full and productive days are crucial to rehabilitating inmates.

David Kennedy (51) has 30 years' experience as a prison officer.

The former rugby player started in Magilligan Prison in Co Londonderry. He worked recently in Hydebank Wood, the young offenders' centre.

But most of his career has been spent in Maghaberry, rising through the ranks from prison officer.

He said: "My heart is very much in Maghaberry. I have done most of my time in Maghaberry."

Mr Kennedy maintained a fast pace as he strode around the high-security jail, exchanging greetings with people wearing high-vis jackets and moving bins and young prisoners, who looked barely out of school, who had just finished a gym session.

The gleaming fitness centre lined with running machines and kettlebells could rival the facilities of a commercial gym, but snow made the outdoor artificial turf pitch on a central courtyard known as Red Square uninviting.

Mr Kennedy explained: "The first key thing is a full, productive day."

He added: "You can make a difference in a lot of ways, you are engaging with them and sometimes a lot of people are not used to that.

"People come in here and they live chaotic lives outside, they come in in crisis."

He said staff were proud of what they were doing to help.

"The people here make a difference to prisoners' lives."

In 2015 inspectors described Maghaberry as the most dangerous prison they had ever visited.

They found a state of crisis and instability and warned of significant failures in leadership.

More than two years later and Mr Kennedy said safety was his paramount concern.

Maghaberry has seen the lowest level of incidents for four years, anything from the calling of emergency ambulances to someone damaging a cell.

The governor said it was important to have prisoners out of their cells and associating.

"I take a really forward-thinking approach to doing everything we can to come up with work," he explained, with jobs to keep inmates productive ranging from recycling a thousand milk bottles a day on a conveyor belt to higher education.

A life-sentenced prisoner who called himself Frederick (not his real name) was about to start a philosophy degree.

He was mentoring an inmate doing a basic-level cooking examination, busily moving pots around akin to scenes from a MasterChef episode. The candidate prepared steak with pepper sauce as a judge in a multi-coloured chef's outfit watched.

Frederick reflected on life inside: "Will you be a different person? If you go out of here the same person as you came in you are a fool."

Education provision in Maghaberry is run by Belfast Metropolitan College.

In the art studio the teacher wore overalls stained with paint, and works adorned the wall.

The tutor said: "Everything that is done here is underpinned by a therapeutic approach."

A painting by one A-level student featured a vivid depiction of a skull and was made using a variety of materials. Belfast Met holds the same standards inside prison as outside.

The governor explained: "It is about trying to link that, so people doing accreditation through Belfast Met can leave to do that outside the gate."

Recently more than 100 people received qualifications in one day, with music and food laid on in a celebratory atmosphere.

The governor added: "I have been at Maghaberry on and off for the past 20 years and it was one of the best days I have spent here."

Belfast Telegraph

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