Allyn Baxter a 19 year old detained on remand in Hydebank Wood Prison died on 5th August 2010, having being removed from the prison to hospital earlier in the week following an attempt on his own life.
The Northern Ireland Prisoner Ombudsman, Pauline McCabe, will be investigating what is now the tenth death by suicide in Northern Ireland’s prisons in 8 years. Previous investigations by the Ombudsman into deaths in custody have highlighted significant concerns regarding the staffing and operation of the prisons and have voiced strong criticisms. However, attempts to discipline individual staff regarding identified failings (particularly in relation to the death of Colin Bell) have resulted in opposition from the Prison Officer Association (POA). These matters remain unresolved and serious concerns regarding the operation of the prisons remain. Reports indicate that the response to the most recent death in custody has resulted in further calls for radical rehaul of the Northern Irish prison system.
The following commentary was first published here:
In response to the most recent tragedy, Stormont Justice Committee member and SDLP MLA for South Belfast, Conall McDevitt, said it was essential to ensure vulnerable boys and young men were identified and supported. “Too many boys and young men detained at Hydebank are also suffering from various degrees of mental illness. The resources are not in place to provide these at risk young people with the support they need whilst in detention. There is an urgent need for the Executive to develop much stronger polices to address the incidence of mental health problems in the criminal justice system.” Conall McDevitt was also critical of the system by which a large number of those remanded at Hydebank had not yet been convicted of any crime. The SDLP representative has now proposed that Stormont’s Justice Committee look into establishing a joint committee with the Health Committee to address the issue.
Sinn Fein’s Martina Anderson has also called for a full review after the death: “Firstly our thoughts are with the family of this man following their tragic loss. The Prison Service here is in serious crisis. Despite there being 10 suicides over eight years, a history of alcoholism within the jails, a severe lack of care and a culture of apathy from staff towards reform there remains an urgent need for the review of accountability mechanisms. Failings within the prison system, including at Hydebank have been consistently exposed and highlighted by several, knowledgeable agencies including the Coroners’ service, by Prison Ombudsman, the Human Rights Commission, the Criminal Justice Inspectorate, and the Independent Monitoring Board, yet recommendations remain mostly unimplemented, warnings ignored and vulnerable prisoners die as a result. This latest tragedy must act as an urgent catalyst for the new Justice Minister to act on Prison reform.”
In April, the NI Justice Minister David Ford visited Hydebank Wood and said that he was determined to ensure that the process of reform would continue. Speaking at the time he said: “I am aware that there are particular issues in relation to the management of juvenile offenders, and I will be playing close attention to developments in these important areas.”