Safety Focus For North's Prison Service

A conference to promote a safer environment for prisoners and staff is being held by the Northern Ireland Prison Service.

After several, high-profile tragedies in NI prisons where inmates managed to kill themselves - often in spite of being under a special 'watch', the Safer Custody Conference is taking place at the Prison Service College in Millisle today.

The key theme for the event is to promote an environment which is safe for all, both prisoners and staff alike.

According to the Stormont Department of Justice, "this further underpins the Prison Service's obligation and commitment in providing a managed, decent and secure living and working environment in which we can deliver high value services to prisoners".

The Director General of the Prison Service, Colin McConnell, said: "I fully support this first Safer Custody Conference under my tenure.

"Clearly the need for improvement is reinforced in the recently published interim Review of the Northern Ireland Prison Service report. The work being undertaken by our Safer Custody team is one of our top priorities."

He continued: "As a service we need to improve what we do and the manner in which we do it.

"We have recently issued a revised policy and guidance to staff on suicide and self harm prevention which supports another recent initiative, the Supporting Prisoners At Risk (SPAR) procedures, through which we manage those prisoners who are identified as being the most vulnerable. Custody and care are crucial companions of our core business."

Dennis Chirgwin, Head of Safer Custody and facilitator of the Conference, said: "The reality is that often we need to protect some prisoners from themselves due to their inability to deal with the issues that life throws at them and turning to dangerous self harming behaviour as a coping mechanism.

"By adopting a non judgmental approach and putting in place good supportive structures, a safe environment for prisoners to live in can be achieved."

Guest speakers included the Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, a Governor, Prison Officer and a Head of Psychology from the Prison Service in England and Wales. The latter three all work in a therapeutic community prison, which accommodates prisoners with highly complex personality issues.

See: Regret Over Foreign Prisoner's Suicide

See: Staff Suspended Over NI Prison Death

See: Prison Suicide Watch Fails - Again


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