One in nine Magilligan prisoners ‘at risk’

A general view of Magilligan Prison, Co Londonderry, Northern Ireland
A general view of Magilligan Prison, Co Londonderry, Northern Ireland

SCORES of cases have been opened for prisoners considered ‘at risk’ at Magilligan prison in each of the past few years.

In 2012, 44 ‘Supporting Prisoners at Risk’ cases have been opened, as part of a scheme aimed at preventing suicide or other harm coming to ‘at risk’ prisoners in custody in Northern Ireland, the Justice Minister has revealed.

Mr Ford also revealed that in the past 13 years, ten families of prisoners who died as a result of suicide have instigated legal proceedings against the Northern Ireland Prison Service. One of the suicides occurred at HMP Magilligan.

Through the Supporting Prisoner at Risk (SPAR) process, the Prison Service has established procedures in place to manage, monitor and support prisoners considered at risk.

In Magilligan there have been 123 SPAR cases opened since 2010. Across Northern Ireland the figure stands at 2,247 with the highest number of prisoners identified as at risk at Maghaberry.

Justice Minister David Ford said: “The Supporting Prisoners at Risk (SPAR) process commenced in all three establishments on 1 December 2009, however the recording of SPARs was not introduced onto the Prisoner Record Information System (PRISM) until 12, January 2010.”

He added: “The Prisoner at Risk 1 (PAR1) process was replaced by the Supporting Prisoners at Risk (SPAR) process in 2009. Since its launch in 2009, SPAR training has been delivered to over 600 staff including new recruits, discipline managers, discipline staff and staff in specialist and supporting functions. Prior to the introduction of SPAR, PAR1 awareness sessions were made available to all staff.”

Commenting on the scheme, Prison Service Director General Sue McAllister said: “Safer custody is a priority for the Northern Ireland Prison Service and we are very conscious of the high number of vulnerable people that enter into our care, or who can become vulnerable at any time during their period in custody.

“The Prison Service is not complacent in this vital area of work and continues to review our procedures and processes to ensure that as far as possible, we provide the best support for those placed in our care.

“Events like today provide the Prison Service with another opportunity to remind prisoners of the processes and support packages that are in place if they feel vulnerable or experience feelings of despair.”

Over the past decade, the Prison Service has worked closely with the Samaritans to provide support to vulnerable prisoners.

The Listener Scheme – where some prisoners undergo training and are mentored by the Samaritans to provide support to fellow prisoners who are feeling vulnerable – has been operating in both Magilligan and Maghaberry over the past 10 years.

Sue McAllister said: “The Listener Scheme is well established in prisons across the UK and Ireland in providing support to prisoners who feel vulnerable during their period in custody.

“It has operated successfully in our prisons and will continue to be an important element of our Suicide Prevention and Safer Custody Strategy.”