The Ulster Unionist Party’s Justice Spokesperson, Doug Beattie MC MLA, has said that the Prisoner Ombudsman’s report into the death in custody of Patrick Kelly in HMP Maghaberry, serves to highlight his concerns about staffing levels inside the jail.
Doug Beattie MC MLA said:
“Yet again I am reading a report that outlines the failing of the Northern Ireland Prison Service to ensure the safety of those who are in its charge. In this case Mr Patrick Kelly, who had a known history of mental health issues and a Forensic Medical Officer’s assessment stating he was at high risk of self-harm, was allowed to self-administer prescription drugs as an ‘In-possession’ status of prisoner instead of what is known as ‘Supervised Swallow’. Even after Mr Kelly himself asked not to be left in possession of his prescription drugs in case he overdosed, the decision was made to let him keep hold of them, with catastrophic results.
“For me this incident raises a number of questions. Firstly, how was Mr Kelly able to hoard drugs in the quantity that allowed him to self-harm causing his own death? Secondly do we have the most appropriate level of supervision in place at HMP Maghaberry for both day and night shifts? Recently I was made aware that manning levels at Maghaberry were nearly 100 less than should be the case for a prison of over 870 inmates. Given that there are a further 40 or so officers off on sick leave, I have no doubt that the prison is continually and chronically understaffed.
“I recently challenged the Justice Minister about the level of night supervision with approximately 25 prison staff on duty from a meagre minimum manning level of 31.
“These manning statistics are frankly staggering for a prison with such a variety of challenges and they must influence decision making when it comes to prisoners like Patrick Kelly. With nightly supervision stretched so thinly and with numerous inmates on the ‘Prisoners at Risk’ register, did keeping Mr Kelly on ‘Supervised swallow’ add a further burden to the beleaguered prison staff which meant they felt under pressure to allow him to self-administer prescription drugs?
“I welcome the report but sadly I believe it will not be the last we will see. Nor do I believe that the burden of responsibility should lie solely with the Northern Ireland Prison Service or indeed with the Department for Justice. The cut in their annual budget - which has had a knock on effect on the NIPS training budget as well as their manning levels - combined with the rise in mental health issues within our prisons, must be the responsibility of the Executive and cannot be tackled in isolation.”