Professor Phil Scraton calls for independent inquiry into mental health services in Northern Ireland prisons
Prisons expert Professor Phil Scraton has called for an independent inquiry into mental health services in Northern Ireland prisons after an internal review was postponed again.
Former Justice Minister Claire Sudgen announced a review of procedures regarding vulnerable people in custody in 2016, but the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) was only appointed in December to carry out the review, investigative news website The Detail reports.
The review was originally presented as an urgent response to five deaths in custody, three of which were as a result of hanging, but it is now not expected to present its findings until March 2020.
Professor Scraton, a professor emeritus at Queen’s University Belfast, told The Detail that the delay strengthened the case for a fully independent inquiry.
He said: “Despite previous reassurances, inexplicably the ‘immediacy’ of the internal review has been delayed until 2020. Over a decade has passed since the necessity and urgency of reform to address the plight of vulnerable prisoners was identified.
“It is now essential that an inter-disciplinary, independent and research-based review of mental health services in Northern Ireland prisons is commissioned. It would require full co-operation of the Departments of Health and Justice.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: “Work is ongoing in respect of the review of prison healthcare for vulnerable prisoners which the former Health and Justice Ministers agreed should be carried out. A steering group was initially established by both departments to carry out this work. RQIA was subsequently commissioned by the Department of Health, with the agreement of the Department of Justice, to complete this review.
“The RQIA is aiming to complete the review by March 2020 and its report and recommendations will be a matter for future ministers to consider. Both departments are committed to ensuring that appropriate healthcare services are provided for all prisoners.
“In the period since this review was announced by the former ministers significant progress has already been made in improving prison healthcare, as was reflected in the most recent Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJINI) inspection into Maghaberry Prison.”
A spokesperson for RQIA added: “RQIA staff met with Department of Health policy leads in December 2018 to discuss completion of a review of prison healthcare for vulnerable prisoners. Preparatory work to support this review has commenced. The review will include all prisons and is aiming to complete by March 2020.”