Belfast Telegraph

Prisoners 'lives at risk' after 46 die in jail or soon after release in past five years

Maghaberry Prison (Michael Cooper/PA)
Maghaberry Prison (Michael Cooper/PA)

Concerns have been raised after 46 people died in prison or soon after release from jail in the past five years in Northern Ireland.

The BBC has reported that 23 people have died in prison since 2014, with 23 dieing within two weeks of their release. Many of the deaths are linked to substance addiction.

The prisoner ombudsman's office said that the majority of the deaths were "self-inflicted" and related to drugs and alcohol.

Around 80% of prisoners in Northern Ireland's biggest jail, Maghaberry Prison, take prescription medication. 

In response to the report the Probation Board for Northern Ireland said that it works with offenders to "minimise risk, both to themselves and to others".

The parents of 20-year-old west Belfast man Joseph Rainey said they felt he had been "badly let down"

Mr Rainey died in hospital from his injuries ten days after attempting to take his own life in Hydebank Prison.

A prisoner ombudsman investigation into his death found that Mr Rainey, who had drug issues, had spent 38 hours in a police cell before being sent to Hydebank, police recorded that he was "suicidal".

The Ombudsman found that this information was "ignored" when Mr Rainey arrived at Hydebank, it was not passed on to his committal officer and he tried to take his own life hours later.

Prisoner Ombudsman Rev Dr Lesley Carroll expressed concern post-custody deaths go unreported and that a "dip in the system" made it difficult for ex-prisoners to access essential support services like GPs and housing on release.

Reverend Dr Lesley Carroll
Reverend Dr Lesley Carroll

"In some instance, for example, if it is difficult to get an appointment with a GP it is impossible to access required medications and some may decide to self-medicate with drugs acquired on the streets," she said.

"You don't know what the balance of that drug is, if it's the proper dosage, you make take too much and the results can be catastrophic."

"We need the right agencies across health and justice talking to each to come up with an inter-agency approach to identify those people not being caught by the system.

"An answer should be found because there are people's lives at risk."

The prisoner's ombudsman office is responsible for investigating deaths in prison and can also investigate deaths that occur within 14 days of a prisoner's release.

Dr Carroll called for greater transparency around the deaths of ex-prisoners.

"There is no legal obligation to inform my office of deaths that occur just after a prisoner leaves custody, so we're relying on organisations like the prison service, the probation service, a hostel manager, a police officer or a family member knowing about the role we can play.

"We're missing an important part of the puzzle if we're not fully informed about post-release deaths."

The South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust is responsible for prison care in Northern Ireland and told the BBC that it recognised an "increased risk" for people when they go into or leave jail.

 "When a person enters custody they remain registered with their community GP practice and communication systems are in place for sharing information between healthcare teams," a spokesperson said.

"The trust continues to work with justice partners and health colleagues across the region to ensure appropriate care pathways are in place to support transitions."

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