08/03/2007

HRC calls for improvements in treatment of women prisoners

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) has marked today’s International Women’s Day by calling for improvements in the way women prisoners are treated in Northern Ireland.

According to Chief Commissioner, Professor Monica McWilliams: "International Women's Day is a day for asserting women's political and social rights, and for celebrating women's contributions to society."

She continued: "It is a day to raise awareness of the value of women's work (still often unpaid), and to remember the courageous, centuries-old struggle of women to participate in society on an equal footing with men.

"Women's rights to work, to be educated, to control their own fertility, health, relationships and income, and to participate in political processes, are restricted to a greater or lesser degree, in every continent in the world."

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission believes that the findings of the recent inquest into the death of Roseanne Irvine, who died by commiting suicide in Maghaberry Prison in March 2004, confirm the need for urgent action by government to improve the conditions of women in prison.

The main finding of the inquest was that the prison system failed Roseanne who had a history of mental health difficulties.

There was a "severe lack of communication and inadequate recording" of her case, a "failure to act" on her risk assessment of self harm and suicide and a general "lack of healthcare and resources for women prisoners."

The Commission believes there is a need for a separate women’s facility, which we believe should be urgently addressed by the Northern Ireland Office.

A therapeutic unit for women suffering from mental ill-health is also required together with a full inquiry into the deaths of three women in prison, including Roseanne Irvine.

(JM/SP)

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