NI: Prison deaths linked to budget cuts by UUP MLA

Robin Swann, MLA for North Antrim
Robin Swann, MLA for North Antrim

Budget cuts to the Department of Justice have led to an increase in prison deaths, an Ulster Unionist Party MLA has claimed.

Robin Swann, MLA for North Antrim, made the comments after figures showed a total of six prisoner deaths last year, compared with just three in 2015.

Mr Swann told The Irish News: “The figures reinforce our concerns that the prison system is suffering as a result of staffing levels, strain on officers, poor morale and insufficient budgets.

“This is having an inevitable impact on prisoners, especially vulnerable ones who suffer from poor mental health and well-being.”

A total of fourteen prisoners have died in Northern Ireland prisons in the last four years.

Justice Minister Claire Sugden has announced plans to bring a “community response” approach to Northern Ireland prisons in response to recent deaths in custody.

Speaking in November, she said: “Full investigations into the circumstances of the recent deaths at Maghaberry are ongoing. Whilst it would be wrong to pre-empt the findings of the Prisoner Ombudsman or a coroner’s inquest, I believe that it is crucial to act immediately.

“I also believe this is the first time that this model, which has been used successfully in the community, has been adopted in a prison in Northern Ireland.

“The objectives of the work are to identify and support those potentially at risk through timely and coordinated support from all sectors; to coordinate local and additional resources through the response period; and to monitor and evaluate the response put in place.”

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