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Last Updated: Friday, 18 June, 2004, 08:30 GMT 09:30 UK
Women prisoners move criticised
Female prisoners are currently held at Maghaberry jail
The decision to move women prisoners from Northern Ireland's top security prison to a young offenders centre has been criticised by the Human Rights Commission.

The Prison Service is moving its female inmates from Maghaberry jail in County Antrim to Hydebank Wood in south Belfast.

The authorities believe the move will offer prisoners a more comprehensive female specific regime.

However, the Commission has raised concerns over the ability of the Hydebank centre to cater adequately for the prisoners.

Linda Moore, a co-author of a report by the Commission, said the Prison Service had ignored its concerns surrounding the transfer.

"Unfortunately we have felt that this has been a done deal for some time and that the Prison Service hasn't been listening to the concerns of bodies like ourselves," she said.

We are confident of our ability to deliver a suitable regime and are prepared to be judged on our results
Prison Service statement

"The situation is that Maghaberry is a high security prison and we have argued consistently against that, women here should not be held in a high security prison.

"The Prison Service's argument is that by moving to Hydebank they will be moving to a lower security more relaxed regime."

Ms Moore said that if the current facilities at Maghaberry were modified, the prison would be the best place for female inmates.

"The physical situation in Mourne House in Maghaberry is better and offers more opportunities so why can you not put a wall around that and think about creating that as a low security more open, liberal regime?" she said.

"We don't see why it cannot be done, a prison within a prison if you like, with separate management.

"Open up the health care centre again, open up the workshops and get the education up and running."

However, a statement from the Prison Service strongly rejected any suggestion that it would not be able to deliver a suitable regime at Hydebank Wood.

"Our feasibility study was carried out by prisons professionals and we consulted a wide spectrum of opinion. We are confident of our ability to deliver a suitable regime and are prepared to be judged on our results," it said.

Ms Moore said the Commission was still calling on the Prison Service to reverse its decision.

"We will certainly be monitoring the situation and if there are any problems we will be urging them to look at the situation of women in custody in Northern Ireland."

"It is a small group, you are only talking about 18 women at the moment, and it means that you have got real opportunities to do something for that small group of women."

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