THE Prisoner Ombudsman has found delays in reaching an unconscious prisoner at risk of suicide may have contributed to the serious brain damage he suffered.
According to a report, the prisoner, known only as Mr C, attempted to take his own life in Maghaberry jail last February.
He has been left unable to speak, and with complex physical and mental disabilities he now lives in a nursing home.
An investigation found Mr C was at increased risk of suicide in custody over his past psychiatric history and previous alcohol abuse.
The 30-year-old was distressed following the recent death of his partner, and his two young children had been taken into care.
He was taken into prison after breaching his licence conditions. Mr C was due to be checked every 15 minutes, but staff found him unconscious in his bed 29 minutes after the last observation.
Prisoner Ombudsman Pauline McCabe said there had been a four and half minute delay requesting an ambulance due to “an unfortunate misunderstanding” of a radio message sent by the senior office at the scene
The report identified 44 concerns regarding how Mr C was handled, as well as the prison approach to caring for vulnerable prisoners.
Ms McCabe said: “It is the case that, despite this prisoner’s history and significant number of self-harm risk factors while in custody, he was confined to cell for long periods with very limited human contact.
She added that the treatment of Mr C highlighted “fundamental questions” about the effectiveness of the Prison Service and the Trust’s approach to managing vulnerable prisoners.
“In particular, this investigation has raised concerns about the extent to which current procedures for dealing with vulnerable prisoners, even where conscientiously applied, actually deliver an appropriate level of care.
“It should never be the case that a ‘box ticking’ approach undermines the ability of individual officers and healthcare staff to apply common sense and compassion to prisoner care and, as such, there is a clear need for a further review of how vulnerable prisoners are dealt with,” she explained.
Sue McAllister, Prison Service Director General, described Mr C as a “vulnerable individual with many troubles”, adding that his time in custody “was both challenging and difficult”.
Responding to the report, Ms McAllister accepted that observation checks on Mr C had not taken place every 15 minutes.
She said: “The Ombudsman notes that prior to this final check, all other observation checks on the prisoner had been carried out consistently in line with his care plan.
“There are important issues raised by the Ombudsman in relation to the overall approach to caring for vulnerable prisoners and I will pay close attention to this in my overall consideration of the report in collaboration with the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust.”