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Woodward challenged over Hydebank conditions for women prisoners

18 May, 2005

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Equality, Human Rights and Women, South Down MLA Caitríona Ruane has challenged British direct rule Minster Shaun Woodward to address the deplorable conditions of women prisoners housed in Ash House and to bring in the new powers for the Human Rights Commission that would allow it to follow up on its damming report into the conditions of women prisoners.

Ms Ruane said:

"After visiting women in Hydebank to inspect conditions for women prisoners last month it was clear that the conditions that women prisoners are being kept in is very serious.

"Sinn Féin have serious concerns that the Human Rights Commission has still not been given unrestricted access to Hydebank to allow it to follow-through on its' very critical report into conditions for women last year in Maghaberry that raised very serious concerns about the treatment of women prisoners.

"Women prisoners were moved from Maghaberry, where they had their own discrete facility with in-cell sanitation, to Hydebank Wood Male Young Offenders Centre last June. In Hydebank there is no in-cell sanitation and women must rely on prison staff to unlock them during night time to use toilet/washing facilities.

The situation now is that women prisoners:

  • Do not have their own discrete unit but are in close proximity to male prisoners
  • Do not have the same educational and training facilities as the male prisoners
  • Do not have adequate facilities for women with babies or separate/appropriate health care facilities
  • Are Being subjected to strip-searches more frequently than when they were held in Maghaberry prison
  • The punishment wing and the wing housing women at risk from self-harm are on the same wing and landing.
  • Transport to court along with male prisoners and being subjected to verbal sexual assault

"The mantle of secrecy needs to be lifted and the British government need to move immediately to provide the commission with statutory power to access that it agreed to in December.

"I am very disturbed at the conditions that women prisoners are being housed in. It is clear that the mental health and well being of women is not being adequately catered for. I am also very angry at what appears to be a total breakdown in the prison regime regarding women at risk from self-harm. The Human Rights Commission raised all of these issues. Yet, still there appears to be no action.

"Sinn Féin has campaigned consistently and raised in every negotiation that the commission be given the power of access to places of detention, including prisons, juvenile justice centres and mental healthcare facilities. In December, following the most recent negotiations, Sinn Féin received confirmation from British Minister John Spellar that legislation would be brought forward to provide the commission with the power of access to places of detention.

"There should be no further delay in allowing the commission to exercise this power and there should be no further delay in the British Government responding comprehensively to the gambit of outstanding powers required by the Human Rights Commission which we have consistently raised for the past five years.

"This is the challenge to Shaun Woodward.

"Sinn Féin believes that a new facility for women prisoners, as supported by the United Nations recently, should be provided to cater for the specific needs of women." ENDS

Note to Editors

The Human Rights Commission's research and investigations officers Dr Phil Scraton and Dr Linda Moore produced a damning report in October last year entitled 'The Hurt Inside' regarding the conditions under which women in Maghaberry Prison had been held.

The researchers have been denied access by the Prison Regime to Hydebank Wood since the women were moved last June in order that they can follow-up their work and assess the circumstances under which women are now being detained. The Human Rights Commission again confirmed to Sinn Fein that it was being denied access as recently as March 16th.

Sinn Féin, via letter to British government minister Ian Pearson called on him to allow the Human Rights Commission, in its own right as a Human Rights

Commission, full access to Hydebank. His response was complacent and he denied that the POA was refusing the researchers access.

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