Questions have been raised over the deepening ‘crisis’ within Northern Ireland prisons following the death of another prisoner at HMP Maghaberry.
Barry Cavan was found dead in his prison cell yesterday evening.
It is understood he took his own life. It is the second death at Maghaberry in less than two weeks.
Ulster Unionist Justice Spokesperson Doug Beattie has expressed his deep regret at the news.
“We are hearing about the death of yet another prisoner who should have been cared for and safe within a prison,” said Cpt Beattie.
“No matter what he was in prison for, he had the right to be cared for and kept safe – even from himself.
“Again prison officers will be under the microscope and their actions analysed. That is the right process and we must allow the Prison Ombudsman to go about his job. But right now I can’t help but think that under investment in people, those who are at the prison coalface day after day is fuelling this desperate situation.
“At Justice Ministers Question Time on Monday I asked the Justice Minister if the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) and prison reform was in freefall due to poor management and low morale.
“My question was based on the facts that in the last ten days we have seen prison officers withdraw their labour in HMP Maghaberry, the death of an inmate, an Ombudsman’s report on the death of another inmate, a continued manning crisis and now a five day ballot amongst prison officers for industrial action.
“Naturally the Minister said no it was not in freefall, sighting the actions she was taking to improve the situation and in fairness I believe she was genuine in her response.
“However, at present the Prison Service is understaffed by 192 officers, not counting the large number of long term sick and absent. This lack of numbers means that minimum staffing levels for a prison of 900 each evening is just 31 officers and that figure is regularly not maintained.
“The Prison Officers Association (POA) at HMP Maghaberry has already raised the alarm bells with the First Minister, the Justice Minister and the Prison Management Board but each time they have been ignored. For the last two weeks I have been pressing the Department of Justice in relation to safety concerns identified by the POA. It has been raised on the floor of the Assembly, the Justice committee and directly with the Justice Minister.
“How many more prisoners have to lose their lives before our Executive realises there is an issue in our prisons and with our Prison Service that will not go away until decisive and strategic action is taken.
“Under-investment in staff, an autocratic management style which does not listen to the concerns of the rank and file, as well as poor terms and conditions are leading to a service with low morale is low and poor staff retention.
“Again I call on the First Ministers to show strategic responsibility for one of their government Departments, for the Justice Minister to force the Prison Management Board to implement the safety recommendations raised by the POA and finally for the Department of Finance to find the resources to staff the Prison Service correctly with investment in people on terms and conditions of service as envisaged in the 2014 ‘Staff Deployment Agreement’.
“Until such time as there is corporate responsibility from our Executive, we will continue to find ourselves passing our condolences on to families grieving the loss of loved ones within our prison regime.”