Reports into the substance abuse within inmates has now been raised after reports have now been published in links to two serious incidents which had occurred at the Prison of Maghaberry in Belfast sources revealed.

Two reports have been published regarding adverse incidents, being released by the Prisoner Ombudsman.

The reports were carried out at the request of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, in line with its suicide and self-harm prevention policy.

The first report published revealed that a prisoner found unresponsive in his cell the morning after his first night in custody at the prison.

The prisoner received immediate medical attention. The report indicated the drugs were either concealed by the prisoner, which he swallowed, or they leaked internally.

The first issue raised was that information the prisoner had been unwell while at court prior to his committal was not passed on to prison staff.

Secondly, the report highlighted the need for the prison service to explore new developments in search technology to deter drugs being smuggled into prisons.

The second report dealt with a prisoner discovered on his cell floor with breathing difficulties and in a critical condition in February 2019.

The prisoner, who was treated in hospital for a drug overdose, was being regularly checked in his cell.

The report found the prison staff had been vigilant and had acted swiftly to rescue the prisoner.

Approximately 80% of inmates in Maghaberry Prison, Northern Ireland’s largest jail, are on prescription medication.

The ombudsman highlighted the “significant challenge” in addressing the impact of drug misuse and repeated her previous recommendation to the prison service regarding the detection and deterrence of drugs coming into prisons using new technologies.

Maghaberry – Safe and well?

In October 2020, investigations began after there were two deaths reported within the prison. The two deaths were of two prisoners within a 10-day span of each other.

The deaths are believed to have been self-inflicted, according to a source.

As is customary, the circumstances of the deaths are under investigation by the Prisoner Ombudsman.

More than 20 people have died in Northern Ireland prisons in the past five years, many of them linked to substance addiction.

Mr Beattie had stated that he had written to the Ombudsman, stating complaints had been raised with him by prison staff.

“Prisoners, regardless of the crime they are in prison for, deserve to be safe and cared for, and at times that means safe even from themselves,” he added.

Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie said he has concerns that staffing levels are “contributing to safety problems”.

However, this claim has been rejected by the Prison Service, which said “adequate numbers are on duty at all times”.

NI Prison Service director general Ronnie Armour said the reports highlighted that but without “the quick actions of our staff” the two men may have died.

“This is a testament to the professionalism and dedication of our staff,” he said. The Prison Service had a responsibility to prevent the smuggling of drugs into prisons, he added. “We are committed to tackling the issue head on with every measure at our disposal,” he said.

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