Northern Ireland’s prison population has doubled since the end of the Troubles.
Prison authorities gave Below the Radar unfettered access to all three institutions where 1,500 men and women are serving time.
The stories of the offenders in Maghaberry, Magilligan and Hydebank jails and those of the people who guard them, were gathered over 12 months of filming for this series of revealing and sometimes shocking documentaries.
This is the first time ever that the experiences of women prisoners in Northern Ireland – currently housed on the grounds of the Young Offenders Centre in Hydebank Wood near Belfast – have been captured on film. It follows many years of criticism over how the authorities deal with them and increasing concern about the welfare of some of the most vulnerable women prisoners.
Behind the scenes at our largest prison – Maghaberry, near Moira – the full range of the criminal spectrum in Northern Ireland is laid bare: from the serial thieves for whom prison is a risk that comes with their career, to the Category A inmates, serving life sentences for murder.
But in County Londonderry the men serving lighter sentences and first-time convicts make their first tentative steps back into the community from the open prison within Magilligan. The regime here is viewed as progressive, but the dilapidated state of the buildings means the future of this complex is in doubt.
This series aims to challenge some of the stereotypes which exist about the people who end up in prison and will allow viewers to decide for themselves if and when the prison system provides an effective way of dealing with crime.