NI: Maghaberry Prison described as ‘most dangerous’ ever inspected in damning report

Brendan McGuigan

A report into Northern Ireland’s high security Maghaberry Prison has described it as the most dangerous prison ever inspected by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspectorate of Prisons in England and Wales.

It was jointly written by Nick Hardwick and chief inspector of Criminal Justice NI Brendan McGuigan.

In May, more than 20 inspectors visited the prison, only to find it in a “state of crisis”, saying it was “unsafe and unstable” for both staff and prisoners and that there were significant failures in leadership.

They assessed conditions in the prison, near Lisburn, over a period of two weeks.

Mr Hardwick called it the “most dangerous prison” he had ever seen as a chief inspector.

He told a press conference: “It’s not safe for the prisoners health, it’s not safe for the staff who care for them and it’s not safe for the communities into which these men will be returned with very little done to reduce the risk that they will stop offending.”

He added that it was a “very worrying and disturbing public institution” and that Charles Dickens could write about it “without batting an eyelid”.

The report was described at the “most concerning ever” regarding a prison in Northern Ireland by Mr McGuigan.

In a joint statement the pair said: “What we found was a highly complex prison that was in crisis and it is our view that the leadership of the prison had failed to ensure it was both safe and stable.”

“We had real concerns that if the issues identified in this report were not addressed as a matter of urgency, serious disorder or loss of life could occur.”

As well as the two criminal justice organisations involved, health watchdog the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority and the Education and Training Inspectorate also took part.

Inspectors compared the prison’s performance against four internationally recognised criteria: respect, safety, purposeful activity and resettlement.

It was ranked “poor” – the lowest possible ranking – in every area except resettlement.

More prisoners than in other jails said they felt unsafe in Maghaberry.

Some staff were even subject to credible threats, with a number of them fearful of prisoners.

Health care provision in Maghaberry also came under fire, with the report stating: “Inspectors were very concerned that aspects of health care provision had deteriorated since the previous inspection.

“In our view it was falling short and not meeting the complex needs of the prison population.”

It added: “Some areas of health care including chronic disease management and substance misuse, were considered by inspectors to be unsafe.”

In an unprecedented step, inspectors have announced they will return to the prison in January to look at how the prison service has responded to its findings.

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