Northern Ireland prisons addressing solitary confinement concerns

Northern Ireland prisons addressing solitary confinement concerns

Jacqui Durkin

Northern Ireland’s prison service has made “impressive” progress in addressing long-standing concerns about vulnerable prisoners being held in solitary confinement for long periods, the criminal justice inspector has found.

A damning report published last year found that prisoners in care and supervision units (CSUs) were being held in breach of UN rules because of how long they were being held without meaningful human contact.

A follow-up review by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJINI) has welcomed significant progress by the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) as well as the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust (SEHSCT) and Belfast Metropolitan College.

Of the three strategic and 11 operational recommendations made last year, all but three operational recommendations had been either fully or partially achieved by the start of 2023.

Jacqui Durkin, the chief inspector of criminal justice in Northern Ireland, said: “This follow-up review demonstrates what can be achieved when leaders commit to implementing recommendations and improving services to achieve better outcomes.”

She added: “The introduction of a framework for the operation of CSUs provides clear messages about why monitoring segregation, as well as transparency and consistent governance arrangements, are vital in discharging human rights obligations.

“An innovative IT solution has also been implemented to monitor time out of cell, prisoner engagement and purposeful activity, which can prompt action to safeguard prisoners against being held in conditions which amount to solitary confinement. We believe the data collected through this technology can be used to develop further improvements in service delivery and oversight arrangements.”

However, Ms Durkin said: “While we recognise the significant positive progress that has been made to implement recommendations, there is still work to be done by everyone involved to sustain the current commitment to deliver improvement, particularly around information sharing and the services provided to support prisoners experiencing personality disorders.

“I remain concerned not only for these vulnerable men and women with very complex needs but also for the staff who look after them.”

Despite this, inspectors are satisfied that a further follow-up review is not required and that future assessment of progress will be included within future prison inspections.

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