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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 December 2007, 06:50 GMT
End of prisoner separation urged
Magilligan Prison
MPs said existing facilities at Magilligan were inadequate
Prisoners from rival paramilitary factions should not be housed in separate wings, a group of MPs says.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee acknowledged that a certain degree of controlled movement was still needed.

However, it said the current regime was hampering education and recreation opportunities for some prisoners.

The committee also said the government must take immediate action to improve prison buildings. An announcement on a new 200m jail is expected next week.

It is believed that it will be located at Magilligan, near Coleraine - a move endorsed by the committee, which said rebuilding on the site would "capitalise on the accumulated experience and many areas of good practice there".

It said existing prison buildings at Magilligan were inadequate and must be replaced.

Women's prison

The committee also said a prison solely for women was needed, adding that "further investment in short-term solutions at the shared Hydebank Wood site is not an adequate response to this issue".

The committee said it was "astounded" that 59% of people who enter prison in Northern Ireland are fine defaulters
Welcoming the report, Prisons Minister Paul Goggins said a review of services for female offenders was already underway with a report due next summer.

"I thank the committee sincerely for their efforts in producing this report - I will give it due consideration and make a full response within the next two months," he said.

The committee said existing prison buildings at Magilligan were inadequate and must be replaced.

It recommended rebuilding on the Magilligan site "in order to capitalise on the accumulated experience and many areas of good practice there".

It said people in jail for defaulting on fines "represent a disproportionate demand on scarce resources" - the committee said it was "astounded" that 59% of people who enter prison in Northern Ireland are fine defaulters, compared to just over 2% in England and Wales.

In 2006, fine defaulters spent on average six days in prison, and the report found that at any time, they make up as much as 3% of the jail population.

It is proposed that a non-custodial sentence should be introduced for this offence, although some prisoners told the MPs they preferred a short stay in jail as it wiped out their debts.

The committee also made a number of additional recommendations:

  • It welcomed the transfer of responsibility for prison healthcare to the health service, and urged the government and MLAs to ensure this process is completed soon;
  • The high proportion of remand prisoners "represents another unjustifiable burden", it said, and called for a review of why the criminal justice process is so slow in Northern Ireland;
  • Early implementation of the security reclassification is essential and must underpin the Prison Service's estate strategy in order to meet the needs of the future jail population, it said;
  • According to the committee, large numbers of prisoners with personality disorders and the lack of a high-security hospital facility in Northern Ireland create further strains for the Prison Service.


SEE ALSO
New 200m prison to be announced
10 Dec 07 |  Northern Ireland
Jail remission laws are outlined
08 Nov 07 |  Northern Ireland
Magilligan Prison to be replaced
14 Sep 05 |  Northern Ireland
Jail segregation cost highlighted
04 May 06 |  Northern Ireland
'Catholic shortage' in jail staff
06 Jun 05 |  Northern Ireland
Women inmates' facilities 'poor'
26 May 05 |  Northern Ireland

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