Hydebank: 'Remarkable progress' at prison, report finds

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As well as female prisoners, young male offenders are also held on the same site in Hydebank Wood's secure college.
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Female prisoners and young male offenders are held on the same site in Hydebank Wood

One of Northern Ireland's prisons has made "remarkable progress", two independent inspections have found.

Hydebank Wood houses young male offenders at its secure college and female prisoners in Ash House.

The reports from the unannounced inspections found that levels of violence and incidents of self-harm at Ash House have reduced.

Outcomes for young men were found to be "dramatically better than at comparable prisons in England and Wales".

But inspectors are "concerned that previous inspection recommendations to tackle the supply and use of illegal and prescription drugs and improve governance around the use of force at both facilities still needed to be addressed".

The unannounced inspections of both facilities were carried out by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI), Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP), the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) and the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) in late 2019.

Inspectors found that 64% of recommendations made to the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) and its partners in 2016 had been achieved, and a further 12% partially achieved.

The findings were similar at Ash House with 58% of recommendations achieved and 13% partially achieved.

Jacqui Durkin, chief inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland, said these were "exceptionally high figures".

Peter Clarke, Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons in England and Wales, said too many reports did not clearly explain why the use of force or anti-tear clothing at Ash House was necessary.

He called for managers in the women's prison to "systematically review body worn camera and CCTV footage and for improvements in how body worn cameras were used at the secure college".

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Inspectors said they were "thoroughly impressed" by the findings of the inspections

A recommendation has also been made to support the further development of learning and skills provision.

But both said they were "thoroughly impressed by the findings from these two inspections and commend all who have worked hard over many years to achieve these positive outcomes".

"This culture of respect and strong personal relationships - where staff don't wear prison officer uniforms and are on first name terms with the women and young men in their care - has undoubtedly helped Ash House and Hydebank Wood secure college to function well under the changed regime and visit arrangements needed to protect both prisoners and staff during the current Covid-19 crisis," said Ms Durkin.