Improving mental health in prisons has been set out as one of the priorities of new Justice Minister Naomi Long.
The Alliance Party leader visited Maghaberry high-security jail in Co Antrim and met governor Dave Kennedy and other senior Northern Ireland Prison Service members.
Poor mental health afflicts a lot of inmates in Northern Ireland.
It is about prisoners wanting to change and sometimes that depends on building relationships and positive role models within the prison systemNaomi Long
Ms Long said: “It is good that progress in that area is being made.
“It is something I want to work on, changes to tackle mental health in wider society and helping to build resilience in the prison system so that when people leave they are able to live productive and stable lives afterwards.”
She said people with mental health problems sometimes entered prison having led chaotic lives outside.
“It is about prisoners wanting to change and sometimes that depends on building relationships and positive role models within the prison system,” she said.
“There are good examples of people who ended up in prison who with the right supports are able to turn their lives around and do something constructive.”
Accompanied by Ronnie Armour, director general of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, and the Maghaberry Governor Mr Kennedy, the minister met staff and people in custody.
She also visited Davis House, the new 360-cell accommodation facility at Maghaberry.
She said: “We often think of people in prison as different to the rest of the population but many people have just made very poor choices at one point, landing them in prison.
“It does not mean they cannot be active, constructive members of society.
“Giving people that second chance in terms of not just the prison but their families and communities, if people are engaged in work, if they feel that they have something to lose then they are less likely to reoffend.”