THE number of prisoners who have died across the island of Ireland since the beginning of 2007 has risen to 206, The Detail can reveal.
Daniel McConville, aged 22, was the latest person to die while in custody at Maghaberry Prison on August 30.
His death brings the total number of prisoners to die in Northern Ireland’s prisons since January 2007 to 50, while 156 inmates have died in the Republic of Ireland.
Of the Northern Ireland deaths, the Prisoner Ombudsman’s office has confirmed 27 were self-inflicted and 21 were deaths by natural causes. The other two cannot be easily classified.
The most recent Northern Ireland figures do not include prisoners who died while they were on temporary release from prison, while they are included in the Republic of Ireland’s total.
The Prisoner Ombudsman’s office has said it is a matter of concern that recommendations from death in custody reports which have been accepted have not been implemented and, on many occasions, recommendations have been repeated.
Acting Prisoner Ombudsman Brendan McGuigan said: “I acknowledge that the Northern Ireland Prison Service and South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust have demonstrated their willingness to work to improve prisoner safety by accepting the recommendations made as a result of death in custody investigations.
“However it is a matter of concern that recommendations which have been accepted have not been implemented and on many occasions, recommendations have been repeated. This is an issue which my predecessor Tom McGonigle raised with the then Ministers of Justice and Health in November 2014.”
Since then 195 recommendations were made in 13 death in custody reports, he said. Of these, 173 were accepted by the prison service and South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust – which oversees prison healthcare - including 42 recommendations that had been previously made and accepted.
Read his full statement here.
A Department of Justice (DoJ) spokesperson told The Detail that a joint review into vulnerable prisoners with the Department of Health (DoH), announced in November 2016, is still ongoing and that a draft Improving Health within Criminal Justice Strategy will require ministerial approval before it is published.
DoJ added that the prison service is testing a new approach to provide additional support for people at risk from suicide and self-harm at Magilligan Prison and Hydebank Wood College and Women’s Prison which will be rolled out to Maghaberry Prison in the coming months.
“This will mean the most vulnerable people in our care will receive bespoke support to meet their complex needs. It also addresses the root causes of their crisis and focuses on care planning,” said the spokesman.
Despite a commitment in 2016 to develop a public database on deaths in custody in the Republic, this has not yet happened but has been identified "as a priority", according to the Inspector of Prisons which investigates prison deaths there.
The Irish Prison Service said it has now implemented a new prisoner pre-release planning policy and is finalising new proposals around the monitoring of prisoners.
It outlined a number of measures it takes to prevent deaths in custody, such as assessment of prisoners and development of care plans, mental health awareness training for all staff and peer support groups.
A spokesperson added: “The prevention of deaths in custody and self-harm is a priority issue for the Irish Prison Service. The fact that the Irish Prison Service National Suicide and Harm Prevention Steering Group is chaired by Mr Michael Donnellan, Director General of the Irish Prison Service is evidence of this.”
Read its full statement here.
Recent prison population figures show that, in the week ending September 21, 2018, there were 1,436 prisoners in custody in Northern Ireland and 3,835 in the Republic.
We are also reporting on the two most recently-published Prisoner Ombudsman investigations into deaths in custody in Northern Ireland.
The report on Barry Cavan highlighted “significant staffing shortages” and that every two in 100 prisoners were considered at risk of suicide or self-harm at the time of his death.
The ombudsman's probe into the death of David McCarthy noted he did not receive the same level of healthcare as he would have had in the community which is contrary to NICE guidance that was endorsed by Stormont’s Department of Health last year.
Click here to read more on these cases.
Since January 2007:
- The families of 20 prisoners who died in Northern Ireland are still waiting for an inquest to be held;
- The Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland has published 39 reports into deaths in custody and completed 43 investigations;
- The ombudsman has also completed a further three investigations into incidents of serious self-harm – two of which were published;
- The Irish Prison Service confirmed nine prisoners died in custody in the Republic in 2017 while there have been eight deaths this year. Since 2014, 24 inquests into 43 deaths have been held with 19 pending;
- Another five prisoners died while on temporary release from prison in the Republic last year and seven this year. The temporary release mechanism is used there to allow prisoners to serve long periods of their sentence in the community,
- The Republic’s Office of the Inspector of Prisons has completed 89 reports into deaths in custody.
Professor Phil Scraton, who led the research for the Hillsborough Independent Panel and was primary author of its report, believes there is a need for an independent review into mental ill-health, self-harm and deaths in Northern Ireland’s prisons.
He added: “Two years ago, focusing particularly on Maghaberry, I stated that prisoners would continue to die until there is a full and thorough policy and programme of prisoner healthcare addressing all aspects of the life cycle of each prisoner. Little of significance has been developed towards that end.”
Read his full statement here.
A spokesperson for the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust told The Detail it completes a review of all prison deaths.
She added: "The learning from these reviews is used by our staff to further improve the provision of healthcare within prisons. The trust extends sincere sympathy to all those impacted by deaths in custody. Prison healthcare staff, often profoundly affected by the loss of life, strive to provide compassionate care in this complex environment very day.”
A DoJ spokesperson added: “Every death in custody, no matter what the circumstance, is a tragedy for bereaved family and friends. It also affects prison staff and indeed other people in custody.
“The needs of those in prison are complex and, in comparison to wider society, there are disproportionately higher numbers of prisoners who present with mental health problems and personality disorders. The Northern Ireland Prison Service works with the Department of Health, other departments, and partners across the justice system, and in the wider community.”
Read their full statement here.
Meanwhile, legislation to give more powers to coroners to investigate deaths in the Republic of Ireland is currently before the Daíl.
The new legislation requires coroners to hold an inquest into the death of someone who was “at the time of his or her death, or immediately before his or her death, in state custody or detention”.
It also requires coroners to notify relatives and other interested parties of the date, time and location of an inquest no later than 14 days before it takes place.
Deirdre Malone, Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, which campaigns for prison reform, said investigation into prison deaths must be open to public scrutiny.
She also called for the Irish Prison Service to publish regular reports into deaths and incidents of near-deaths, self-harm, violence and assaults in prisons.
She added: “The duty to effectively investigate is important, both to ascertain how the person came by their death, but also to learn broader lessons about how to minimise the risk of further future death.
“Where they are present at the inquest, the press can act as ‘public watchdog’ placing all relevant facts on the public record and subjecting them to public scrutiny. Sensitive reporting serves both bereaved families and the public where it facilitates and supports the transparency and effectiveness of the investigative process.
“Ensuring that advance inquest listings are made widely available, that hearings are conducted in public, that reporting is not restricted and that recommendations are published would help support that process.”
- The Irish Prison Service confirmed that it previously told us, for our 2016 coverage, that 15 people died in prisons in 2015 “in error” when it was actually 14. We have amended our figures and database to reflect this.
- After our previous coverage on this issue, the Office of the Information Commissioner in the Republic has ruled that coroners there are not subject to Freedom of Information legislation after an appeal made by The Detail.
- Click here to read our summary of two reports into deaths in custody published by the Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.
Subscribe below to receive email alerts for future stories from The Detail.