18/06/2004

Prison Service urged to reconsider transfer plans for women prisoners

The Human Rights Commission today urged the Prison Service to abandon its plans to transfer women prisoners from Mourne House in Maghaberry Prison to Hydebank Wood Young Offenders Centre.

The Commission said it hoped that the Prison Service reconsidered its decision and called for a meeting to determine the long-term future of custody for women in the province. Commission’s grave concerns about the move are detailed in a research report on the transfer published today.

Following its 2002 visit to Maghaberry, the Prison Inspectorate, in a highly critical report, made many recommendations concerning women and girls in custody in Northern Ireland.

Recent research by The Human Rights Commission indicated that, far from implementing the Inspectorate’s recommendations, the regime at Mourne House "has been allowed to deteriorate still further, with all efforts channelled into the planned transfer".

One of the report’s authors, Professor Phil Scraton of the Queen’s University of Belfast, said: “No convincing case has been made for the transfer of women from Mourne House to Hydebank Wood. The Northern Ireland Prison Service has failed to provide the necessary safeguards for women prisoners in a male prison in the Mourne House context and has not demonstrated that it can meet them at Hydebank.

"While a reduction in security levels for women prisoners in Northern Ireland is long overdue, the designated house is adjacent to a house accommodating young men. There are profound implications in this decision for the women and girls and also for the boys and young men. We anticipate that women will face intimidation and harassment in this context.”

Women at Mourne House in Maghaberry, are currently housed in a “small self-contained unit, which is discrete accommodation housing up to 49 prisoners and is separate from Maghaberry male prison”.

The Commission's full report is available online at www.nihrc.org.

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