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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 May, 2005, 16:57 GMT 17:57 UK
Women inmates' facilities 'poor'
Hydebank Wood jail
Women prisoners in Northern Ireland are held at Hydebank Wood
Current provisions at a jail in Belfast do not meet the needs of female prisoners, according to a report.

It follows a surprise inspection at Hydebank in November, commissioned by the Criminal Justice Inspectorate.

The report said a move from Maghaberry was poorly implemented and there was a lack of trained staff to manage inmates at risk of suicide or self harm.

The Prison Service said it accepted criticisms of past performance and it was "moving in the right direction".

The report was produced jointly by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owens and the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice, Kit Chivers.

Mr Chivers said he was delighted that the Prison Service has accepted all the main recommendations.

"They have taken it on the chin and faced up to their shortcomings," he said.

"This is a good outcome for the women prisoners - a win, win situation."

'Urgent'

The Northern Ireland Prison Service was told to "urgently" seek assistance from prison services in other jurisdictions which had developed policies to meet specific needs of women in custody.

In 2002, a Prisons Inspectorate report criticised conditions and treatment of women prisoners at Maghaberry jail in County Antrim.

Since then, female inmates have been moved to Hydebank Wood young offenders' centre in south Belfast, which houses 250 young men.

In this latest report, the two inspectors said the relocation had "not tackled the underlying and fundamental issues" affecting women and girls in prison.

The Prison Service was criticised for failing to take action to implement recommendations made in the previous report.

'Poorly implemented decision'

Women and girls were moved to Ash House at Hydebank instead, following the suicides of two inmates and a critical report from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission.

The report said it was "a poorly implemented decision" and recommended that a separate dedicated prison for women should be provided.

The inspectors said facilities on a site shared with the male offenders lacked integral sanitation.

They said staff were insufficiently trained and prepared to receive the women following the move.

The report found that although women were allowed out of their cells, there was not enough for them to do and they had lost open access to fresh air and grounds.

In the long term we are open-minded, but I am not promising there will be a purpose-built women's prison
Robin Masefield
NI Prison Service
The Prison Service accepted the majority of the recommendations.

The inspectors said integral sanitation would be installed in the cells at Ash House.

They said the Prison Service had recognised that Ash House could not be a permanent solution to the problem of accommodating women.

Following their recommendations, there is now a dedicated governor with responsibility for women prisoners.

Robin Masefield, director general of the Prison Service said he had to "accept the criticism of aspects of our past performance" but he was confident the regime was "moving in the right direction".

He said the service accepted Ash House was temporary but, in the short to medium term, he was focusing on improving the regime there.

"In the long term we are open-minded, but I am not promising there will be a purpose-built women's prison."

A separate facility could cost between 30m and 40m, he said.

"The taxpayer would be asking 'is that the best use of public money?"' he added.


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SEE ALSO:
Prison made more family friendly
10 May 05 |  Northern Ireland
Inquiry dismisses prison claims
20 Jan 05 |  Northern Ireland
Prisoner's plea to inspect cell
26 Nov 04 |  Northern Ireland
Prison conditions 'disturbing'
19 Oct 04 |  Northern Ireland
Women prisoners move criticised
18 Jun 04 |  Northern Ireland


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