12/02/2013 Spotlight


Hard-hitting investigations about life in Northern Ireland. Ciaran Tracey investigates drug abuse in Northern Ireland's prisons.

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This program contains some strong $:/STARTFEED. Tonight, a place you


can get drugs. It is easier to get heroin in prison than it is outside.


My son could still be alive. reveal a breakdown in prison drug


testing as staff shortages are at home. Are past failures still


We investigate the extent of illicit and prescription drug abuse


in Northern Ireland's prisons. We find out why the system is


struggling to cope with the drug problem behind bars. Northern


Ireland's prison service has been criticised time and again, deemed


as ineffective. It is beset by chronic staff absence. It might


seem hard to believe that drugs get into our prisons, smuggled in by


residents, visitors and staff. But many are there already and


available on prescription. I am going behind bars to find out the


Maghaberry Prison. We have been given a glimpse of life inside


Northern Ireland's high-security prison. Where are you taking us


now? Down to reception. What does that mean in prison terms? This is


where people are processed, their details taken. Governor Patrick


Maguire is in charge of the inmates. The prisoners arrive in from the


vehicles, come along the corridor. Prisoners are processed, they are


seen by various staff, given various measurements, they will be


given clothes. Around half of the prisoners here come in on remand,


but many will not return to the outside world for years, even


decades. This is prison life. These blocks can be a harsh place.


SHOUTING AND SWEARING. Over a quarter of inmates here have drug


habits. On the day we filmed, there had been a drugs find. Today, a


visitor was caught with drugs. That person has been arrested.


Jurisdictions around the world have drug issues. What we are all about


is zero tolerance of drugs. We have a number of methodologies to deal


with the drug issue. But the prison's track record shows


anything but zero tolerance. Patricia Gilmore suffered as a


result. Her son Richard died in 2009 in Magilligan Prison.


first I knew was when the police arrived at the door to tell me that


my son was dead. It was quite a shock. What was that morning like?


The police came and said a suspicious death and that we were


not to go near the prison because we would not get in. I thought


perhaps somebody had killed him or he had got into a fight or had


committed suicide. The liaison officer told me about the drugs. He


had smuggled drugs into prisonand died after taking a toxic cocktail


of pills. It was just three weeks before he was due to be released.


His sister has lost a brother, my grandson has lost a father.


inquest found the defects in the prison system had contributed to


his death and that searches should have been carried out after the


suspected overdose of another inmate. Richard was a known drug


abuser but he had been given his prescription pills in bulk. An


officer had even been aware he was high on drugs prior to his death.


My son would be alive if only they had done certain things, had


checked him. When there was a clear awareness? One of them told me he


was off his head. If somebody is off their head on drugs, what do


you do? You do something about it. At the inquest, it seemed there is


nothing they can do. Drugs get in no matter what. There is nothing


they can do about it. But there must be something they can do.


since Richard's Gilmore's death, basic failings in the supervision


of drug use amongst prisoners has been a feature of several deaths in


our jails. The Prison Ombudsman says that the service has been slow


to put in what could be life-saving changes. I have made it absolutely


clear that we need to givea much higher level of priority to the


whole issue of drugs. We have to look at the supply of drugs into


prison. We have to try and stop them getting into prison. That is


always going to be difficult, but it is important we try.


question is how hard has the Prison Service been trying? What goes on


in Northern Ireland's prison is hidden from public view. But I have


talked to someone who knows it very well. An officer who saw the drug


problem first hand. That former officer agreed to speak to me on


camera, but wanted his identity obscured. He said that inside


anything goes. Prisoners in Maghaberry can get anything. They


are out of their skull. You do not know what they have taken. They


don't know what they have taken. Belfast lawyer we spoke to said a


number of his clients have come into contact with drugs while


imprisoned. He says the problem is severe enough for even hardened


drug dealers to be concerned. client said he had never come into


contact with heroin until he went to Maghaberry. Another client who


was a cocaine dealer asked me to make representations to take him


away from the heroin. He says another of his clients did become


hooked on heroin while on the inside. The scale of the problem


has led this lawyer to one staggering conclusion. It is easier


to get heroin in prison than it is outside. The number of heroin


seizures has been small, but many I spoke to expected the problem to


increase. Time and again, the Prison Service has been criticised


by the Prisons Ombudsman and government inspectors for failing


to keep prisoners safe. They say crucial chances to save lives have


been missed. The regime is based on security not rehabilitation. It is


a service stuck in the past. need to have a whole new generation


of prison officers with a different mindset. That doesn't mean you


throw out discipline and security. There has to be, and even a report


has said it, a cultural change that goes to the root of what people


traditionally have always called a dinosaur mentality. Long-serving


officers are more than familiar with the accusation. I am quite


happy and proud to be a dinosaur. We had a block in the Maze called


Jurassic Park because it was all dinosaurs. We did the job, we were


able to do the job and we did not shy away from doing the job. 30


years later we are still doing the job. Hundreds of older officers


agreed to a golden goodbye to make way for younger, cheaper recruits.


Since last year, prison officers have been leaving in droves. Many


of them were members of the Prison Officers' Association.


relationship between the the Prison Service management and the


Association has been challenging. I do not expect to get to a position


where we agree on everything. But my sense is we do now have a mature


relationship. This is not the first time that someone has tried to


bring change to our prisons. In 2009, Steve Rodford promised reform


but quit after a security breach when his personal details were


found in a prisoner's cell. This is the prisoner assessment unit on


Belfast's Crumlin Road. Until 2011, it housed life-sentence prisoners


coming to the end of their tariff. It meant they could come and go,


mix with the community, get jobs. It was a facility designed to


prepare them for real life. The prisoner assessment unit was closed


in controversy when it was revealed a night custody officer had been in


a relationship with one of the inmates. An investigation was


launched. The officer we spoke to was one of those interviewed in the


investigation. He says he tried to blow the whistle on how a goverenor


at the PAU had once agreed to help a prisoner save up to repay a debt


over drugs. When we got to �200, this would be handed to the


prisoners niece who would pay the drug dealer. So staff were being


instructed by a governor to save money to pay off a drug dealer?


Correct. What was your opinion of that? I told the governor where to


go and said that no member of staff will be taking any truck with that.


But the money was paid and the investigation uncovered more. The


unit was being managed chaotically while staff were working hours to


suit themselves, junior officers were often left in charge of


dangerous prisoners. The report damned a dysfunctional prison unit


but its findings remain heavily blacked out. The former officer we


spoke to said staff were doing their best and management were at


fault. He wants the report to be fully published. What was the point


in printing it? Somebody has something to hide. Eventually two


governors were suspended for bringing the Prison Service into


disrepute. This facility is due to re-open, but there are no plans to


publish the full report. The public may never know why it was closed in


the first place. Just because it is redacted it doesn't mean that you


should have confidence we will learn the lessons from what


happened previously and make sure that the new PAU is fit for purpose


and we learn from mistakes made and acknowledge them. Disorganised


staff and poor management were the legacies of the Prison Service's


troubled past. The jails themselves remain largely unchanged. The


service has been recently criticised for still keeping


prisoners in cell blocks like these for up to 20 hours per day. The


prison governors want to phase them out and know they are poorly


designed, outdated and cramped. These tiny cells are frequently


shared, but can't be consigned to the history books yet. More blocks


just like this currently hold over 400 inmates. The Prison Ombudsman


has lambasted the regime of confinement. If we want to deal


with drugs, we have to deal with the demand. People who are locked


up for long periods may not be well, may have mental health problems,


may have addiction problems, the last way we will prevent them from


looking for drugs is by locking them up. You are locked down, not


out of your cell. It is boredom and the fact you have no meaning beyond


your immediate situation. If you have a mental health condition it


will worsen. If you haven't got one, you are at risk of getting one.


That is the reality. All the research I have done has


demonstrated that is the continuing debilitating reality. It is this


that aggravates one of Maghaberry Prison's biggest problems. Inmates'


cravings for prescription pills that come in legitimately through


the front door. Two-thirds of medication like painkillers and


anti- anxiety tablets. It is these drugs, as well as illegal ones,


that are being abused. They are out of it. They are walking about as if


they have been out all night having a skinful and the staff just say,


"Look at him, get him into a cell and out of the road." Because many


drugs are given out weekly, prisoners are hoarding them


increasing the risk of misuse. Worse, pills have become currency


and an underground economy is rife. As a consequence, drugs are being


stolen, traded or bullied from vulnerable inmates. We are about


trying to find a safe environment for prisoners and staff. That will


take more time to achieve. It is an ongoing battle, but we are


determined that we will achieve what we set out to achieve, which


is a safer prison for everyone. That will be an uphill battle. One


way is to watch prisoners taking drugs, but this has been delayed


due to a lack of manpower. Back in 2009, the prison was severely


criticised by inspectors and labelled one of the worst jails in


the UK. Tom McGonigle was on the team that said so. Drugs were often


the currency in the prison so prisoners were bullied and


prisoners traded them. If you think of the fact that communal areas are


not supervised adequately, then that meant there was a greater risk


of bullying and overdosing. inspection team returned last year.


There had been improvements, but they found it hadn't improved


nearly enough in its commitment to stamp out drug abuse. In relation


to substance misuse, it had not changed adequately at all. We went


in in March 2012 and reported in December 2012 and essentially there


was little progress in those areas. Inspectors had welcomed a new


system of testing for drugs at the jail, but nearly one year on, we


have discovered that drugs testing has faced serious difficulties.


Figures obtained by Spotlight show how last year drug-testing fell


from 138 tests in January to just 13 in August. Testing faced more


disruption last winter. It is fair to say that drugs testing,


alongside a number of other things, has been a casualty of staff


shortages. I take that very seriously. I have been working with


the Governor and senior management to look at how we can make sure


that drug-testing is not one of those things that gets cancelled.


Fewer staff meant fewer tests. The Prison Ombudsman says it is a poor


state of affairs for a service supposedly clamping down on a drugs


crisis. I raised it with the Prison Service when I was told and my


reaction to that is that it is not acceptable. If we are serious about


dealing with the problem then the priority we give to making sure


that functions like drugs testing are fully staffed and that is not


the place we go to take stuff when we have a problem somewhere else


and it has to be given the highest priority. It is completely


unacceptable. A key goal of the change programme is to run prisons


on fewer staff. But staff sick leave in prisons here is among the


worst in the civil service. This long-term absence alongside the


exodus of retiring officers has left management struggling to cope.


There will be difficult decisions to be made whenever we are short of


staff or when we perceive we are short of staff. So it is not easy.


That's something we will have to give. We need to be clear that, if


drugs is a priority, then drugs testing has to be part of that


strategy. New recruits and new ideas were supposed to be bringing


change in a service that badly needs it. It seems clear there is


tension between old officers and young counterparts. These are smart


young people, that is fine. Street craft, jail craft, to be able to


look a prisoner in the eye, not down at them. They can come in with


degrees and A-levels and the rest of it. Whenever I came into jail,


you did not open your mouth for the first six weeks. You went in there


and you worked on the wing and listened to what you were being


told. These ones go in and think they know better. Their first day


they are telling you how to do the job. Jail craft, the know-how on


the wings is crucial. That is a craft that also needs to evolve and


there are fears that attempts to modernise won't survive contact


with the old guard let alone prisoners as the head of the Prison


Service told Stormont last year. There is a risk that we train


people at college and they go back and staff say, "Forget what you


learnt, we will show you how it is really done." We have said to them,


you will come under pressure not to do some of the things we are


training you to do. Finlay Spratt is the chairman of the Prison


Officers' Association and rejects the allegation that older staff


will lean on new recruits to abandon training. That statement


was made by somebody who does not know the staff in the Northern


Ireland Prison Service. I would ask Sue McAllister, where is her


evidence to support that? There is no evidence. Quite a lot of her


staff are remaining within the Northern Ireland Prison Service.


Her remark exposed a rift in the service. We needed to make sure


that we supported all of our staff to work in this new way, including


experienced staff and that we recognise that there might be times


when some of the experienced staff found these new ways of working


difficult, challenging or they simply felt unable to be part of


that change. We needed to support new colleagues in resisting


pressure where it happened from some of the more experienced staff.


Having said that, our experience to date of how the new officers have


been received by more experienced staff has been largely positive.


Crossing over to a new culture hasn't been easy for the Prison


Service. I have come to Bristol to hear about the transformations that


other prison services have undergone and why that matters to


Northern Ireland. Prisons in the rest of the British Isles have been


on a rail journey in the last 20 years, moving away from a culture


of punishment and towards rehabilitation. That is a journey


that Northern Ireland prisons say they want to follow. I have come


here to meet someone who has investigated drugs in prisons for


decades. Someone who advised the Northern Ireland Prison Service on


dealing with substance abuse. Dr Anthoney Hewitt found that the


service was slow to put his recommendations, such as keeping


track, into practice. I was disappointed, we all were, how long


it took to even consider some of them and how some of them were


diverted into sub committees or other planning groups when they


could have been implemented relatively easy and quickly.


Prison Service has changed in Great Britain in his time and so has the


way it deals with complex issues like drug abuse. There has


definitely been a change in the 30 years I have been working in


prisons. Between what you might call the ex-military model of


prison officer that I was working with in the Eighties to the sort of


officer you have now. It is a much more complex job and more demanding.


That hasn't necessarily been an easy process to go from one to the


other. Sometimes that has meant changing personnel, not just


personalities. Change has been introduced. Back at Maghaberry


Prison, authorities say they are making improvements trying to


increase time outside cells. The service says it can make the system


work with fewer staff and they claim it is to the benefit of the


inmates. I have been allowed in in open association time. As you can


see, there are not a lot of staff about. That is the way the Prison


Service wants to move to. It is a new culture. Certain prisoners can


now move more freely around the complex and the Governor tells me


the most modern blocks offer a better regime for the inmates.


People tend to integrate well. If everyone finds their own level. I'm


a great believer that we can change the culture, we can change


behaviours through good architecture. This design of this


house block will allow all of that to flourish. That is why I am


optimistic about the future. Some that we spoke to were also getting


used to a new regime of openness. More prisoners out of cells with


fewer staff is an idea dismissed by the Prison Officers' Association.


The chairman has a stark warning. think the drug problem will get


worse within prisons and we will end up with more attacks on


prisoners on prisoners. And more attacks on staff because as the


prisoners get high on drugs, staff will pay the penalty. That is the


result of this wonderful reform that they talk about and also the


fact of cutting the staffing levels at the minute. Critics say staffing


levels cannot remain as high as they once did. There is no reason


whatsoever that safe administration of drugs and at the same time, safe


monitoring of drugs and their use, if that comes down to searching


cells, can be carried out. I'm at a loss to be able to even contemplate


why, with the levels of staffing we have in our prison system, we


cannot carry out safe, secure, appropriate regimes. After many


failures, the Prison Service no longer runs medicine inside the


jails. It is now handled by the South Eastern Health Trust and they


have promised to clamp down on inmates' access to prescription


drugs. Where they are already getting medication from their GP


and where we can verify that case, we will do so and they will get


their medication. There are times when we can't do that. Not all


prisoners tell us the truth. In the past, many prisoners have been over


prescribed. There have also been serious problems with some


prisoners needing drugs and not getting them. Solicitor Matt


Higgins says that despite recent changes, he is still writing on his


clients' behalf complaining of this problem. I wrote on each occasion


and on each occasion sometime later I got a letter from the trust


saying your request will be dealt with within 28 days. The holding


letter I get from the trust just shows that it is not being dealt


with urgently. It is extremely disappointing given their recurring


promises and the repeated problems that come to light. Yet the trust


maintains it can't rush proper medical assessment of inmates.


have in place robust arrangements to ensure individuals are not


prescribed medication just because they ask for it or just because the


solicitor says they require it. you satisfied that is happening


timely enough? Absolutely. Despite the setbacks, the Prison Service


maintains reform is working. It says new facilities like this have


different ways of working with prisoners and it is positive. Some


inmates agree. This is great. You can come over here, walk around as


free. A bit of freedom is good for you and relaxing. Yet the shadow of


drug abuse still lingers. While filming, we saw this. The notice


warned of bad drugs in circulation. It asked inmates to hand them over


or flush them away. Spotlight has learnt it went up following the


death of another inmate just weeks before Christmas. The ombudsman is


Ciaran Tracey investigates drug abuse in Northern Ireland's prisons.

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