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New Prisoner Ombudsman must act immediately on existing reform recommendations

7 June, 2005

Sinn Féin Human Rights and Equality Spokesperson, South Down MLA Caitríona Ruane commenting on the appointment of Brian Coulter to the new post of Prisoner Ombudsman has said that his first priority must be to ensure that recommendations on Prison reform, particularly from the Human Rights Commission Report into conditions of female prisoners are acted on.

Ms Ruane said:

"Over the last two years there have been number of reports into the Prison Service. It is vital that recommendations from these reports are acted on.

"In particular it is vital that not just the many complaints of women prisoners, particularly those at risk from self harm and the recommendation of the Human Rights Commission report into the conditions of women prisoners are acted upon without delay.

"Sinn Féin are concerned that those within the NIO and Prison System who are resistant to change and transparency and accountability.

"It is vital that this new office is totally independent of both the NIO and Prison Service and accountable because it must be in a position to effectively challenge bad practice within the Prison system.

"This announcement is not a response to, or a solution for the serious problems in the penal system in the Six Counties which Sinn Féin has highlighted. Indeed, it is more than a month since the Prisoners Ombudsman was appointed and opened his office so there may naturally be some scepticism about why the NIO delayed the announcement until now.

"Sinn Féin are also deeply concerned that this will delay legislation to give the Human Rights Commission the new powers, particularly in relation to the power to enter premises. I would encourage Mr Coulter to ensure that he is not used to create a smokescreen behind which the Prison Service can hide." ENDS

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