Belfast Telegraph

Major £54 million revamp will transform lives of Maghaberry prisoners

The opening of the new digitised accommodation block at Maghaberry prison is set to mark the beginning of a new era for the Prison Service.

(PA)
(PA)

By Cate McCurry, PA

Inmates at Northern Ireland’s high-security prison will be able to select meals, speak to family members and book appointments from inside their cell in a major £54 million revamp.

The opening of the new digitised accommodation block at Maghaberry prison is set to mark the beginning of a new era for the Prison Service.

Maghaberry prison is Northern Ireland’s only Category A high-security unit and houses some of the UK’s most dangerous inmates.

There are currently 921 prisoners ranging from life sentence inmates, indeterminate and extended custody prisoners, separated prisoners, fine defaulters and civil prisoners.

Davis House opens on Thursday, and among the 372 cells are 24 observation cells, eight listener cells and eight universal access cells.

The building also houses a 12-bed “safer cell unit” equipped for vulnerable prisoners.

Director general of the NIPS (Northern Ireland Prison Service) Ronnie Armour exclusively told the PA news agency that it will transform the way the prison service works.

“We will have a real focus on our rehabilitation objectives,” he said.

“Within the building we will have an education suite for our colleagues in the Belfast Metropolitan College to deliver learning and skills and we will also have a health care facility for our colleagues in the South Eastern Trust who have a responsibility for delivering health care.

“The regime within Davis House will be a very progressive one, prisoners will come in and, depending on their behaviour, will be able to progress through the various different landings.

“The entire design and landing has a therapeutic feel to it.

“It will give us an opportunity to work with those who have vulnerabilities and low level education attainment.”

The use of colours and different types of material within the prison is believed to help create a sense of individual space and soften security critical features.

The building has open, bright areas, wide landings, different zones with clear distinction between learning, health and leisure activity, large and small communal areas.

It is expected to cut staff costs, reduce overcrowding, create a safe and secure environment, and increase prisoner engagement and support rehabilitation.

It is the largest capital build undertaken by the NIPS in over 30 years and is named after the late Stephen Davis, Governor of Maghaberry, who passed away in 2017.

While the new premises has been opened officially today, the 400 prisoners will not be moved until early January.

Around 70% of the inmates leave school between the ages of 14 and 16, and of those 50% have no formal qualifications.

Around a third of prisoners have mental health issues.

“That’s a massive challenge for us,” Mr Armour added.

“Prison officers are not mental health nurses. This is about ensuring there are fewer victims in our society.

“We are not here to punish people, the court punishes people when they take away their freedom. Our role is to hold them safely, decently and securely, but equally important it’s about what we do with them when they are in our care.

“A door still closes behind you at night.”

Austin Treacy, director of prisons, said that every cell will have a toilet, shower, telephone and computer.

“We wanted to make Davis House work more efficiently but at the same time give prisoners a bit more say in how they conduct their daily lives,” he added.

“In their first phase prisoners will be able to make meal selections, tuck shop selections, make a request, make a complaint, and we have been working with our health care colleagues to see if we can get into the NHS website too.

“By freeing our staff up and giving prisoners control by making them have direct impact on things that are important to them when they are custody, we free up staff to focus on our core role of rehabilitation.

“This is very daring and audacious so it’s got to be right.

“We want to re-write how staff engage with prisoners.”

PA

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