Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Too easy for inmates to get compensation

Editor's Viewpoint

The public will be astonished at the compensation culture that exists in Northern Ireland's prisons and is revealed in this newspaper today.

As Jim Allister MLA points out, the £700,000 paid for claims in the last five years is only the tip of the iceberg, as that figure does not include the legal aid and costs bill, which also comes out of the public purse.

And that all comes on top of the bill for incarcerating criminals in the first place, which runs at more than £53,000 per inmate per year.

Most of the payouts are for personal injuries suffered by inmates as a result of confrontations with other prisoners or staff, or health and safety failings in the jails.

The situation is worst at Magilligan Prison, where there has been a huge increase in claims in the last year.

The authorities admit that the jail is in need of refurbishment and that a large number of claims relate to prisoners being forced to slop out because of a lack of proper sanitation and a shortage of staff on occasions to take prisoners to toilets.

It is not ideal that conditions in the prison should have deteriorated to that extent. By allowing this to happen the Prison Service was leaving itself wide open to legal claims, and many of those have come from former prisoners.

There will be little sympathy among the public at large over the conditions in which prisoners are held. There is a widespread belief that they are treated too well considering that a significant number are behind bars for serious crimes. They wouldn't have their human rights breached or leave themselves open to injury if they led crime-free lives, as the vast majority of people do.

Obviously each claim made by prisoners is carefully examined to see if it has any merit and no money is paid out unless it passes a certain threshold. However, Mr Allister raises some concern with his argument that the authorities are willing to settle claims quickly out of court rather than face the additional costs associated with a legal action.

With prisoners having access to legal aid, there must be a temptation for some to make claims in the hope of winning compensation safe in the knowledge that it does not cost them anything if the case crumbles.

With claims escalating, the public will expect the authorities to investigate and challenge claims vigorously to ensure that public money is not being squandered.

Belfast Telegraph

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