T3. Mr Clarke asked the Minister of Justice what work her Department is doing to support the prison officers who have been at the coalface of many of the harrowing deaths in custody, given that there has been much in the media recently about the unfortunate death from suicide of many prisoners. (AQT 568/16-21)
Any death in custody is an absolute tragedy, and I extend my sympathies to the families affected by the two most recent deaths in Maghaberry prison; indeed, the impact is also on prison staff, and we need to be mindful of that. The appropriate supports that are in place have been offered to those prison officers. As mentioned in an earlier answer, I am really mindful of the challenges that prison officers, particularly those in Northern Ireland, face in their role, which is why I was keen to find a way we could better support them. I am pleased to say we have extended the Police Rehabilitation and Retraining Trust to serving and retired prison officers. It provides a fantastic service, and, if you get the opportunity to visit, you should go. It provides a range of services in mental and physical health. I really look forward to seeing how it can better facilitate prison officers, both retired and in service.
I thank the Minister for her answer. Does she believe the media are balanced in their reporting when these deaths take place? Does it take into consideration the difficulties the prison officers face, the conditions they work in and the mental health of the prison officers themselves —
I am not sure there is balanced reporting of any story that has come out of my prisons. A number of reports in the press have been wildly exaggerated or, to some extent, untrue. I do not think we appropriately estimate the challenges that prison officers face. Northern Ireland is a challenging environment because of our specific issues. I am keen to stress that we need to support prison officers, and that, in turn will lead to better support and care for the prisoners in their custody. The message is that we need to have a balance, and I will try to find ways to do that for prisoners and prison officers.