Prisoner Ombudsman recommends Maghaberry changes

Image caption,
The ombudsman made 16 recommendations to the NI Prison Service

The prisoner ombudsman has called for a review of lockdowns and strip searches at Maghaberry Jail.

In a wide ranging report, Pauline McCabe made 16 recommendations after an inmate complained about being locked up for 23 hours a day.

Ms McCabe called for an immediate review into locking down prisoners as a response to staffing problems.

She also said prisoners in Roe House had effectively served their punishments for an Easter protest.

Ms McCabe was responding to complaints made by "Prisoner C" . She said these had been raised by other inmates several times.

Paramilitary prisoners are kept separately at the prison: Roe House is for republicans and Bush House is for loyalists.

Staff shortages have led to more lockdowns in Maghaberry. Any lockdowns must be seen to be carried out in an equitable way across the board, she said.

Ms McCabe also said random CCTV footage should be examined every month to ensure prisoners have as much free movement out of their cells as possible.

In the light of recent industrial relations problems, one impartial person should be present at discussions with the Prison Officers' Association, she said.

She also recommended that:

  • A review of the separated prisoner regime should be included in the overall prison review
  • Eating arrangements for separated prisoners should be revised to allow people to eat in the recreation room and three prisoners should be trained in food handling to serve meals
  • An independent prison review should be carried out into full body searches
  • Random selection of prisoners for searches should be seen to be done equitably
  • Every prisoner undergoing a body search should be given a clean bath towel to use during the process.

Twenty-eight republican prisoners barricaded themselves into a dining room at Roe House over Easter.

Ms McCabe said they had been served punishments and, for more than 69 days, had been confined to their cells or were part of a regime which was similar to being confined to cells.

She said she recommended that a line be drawn in the respect of any outstanding adjudications for the Roe House prisoners.

"The separated prisoners in Roe House have, in effect, served the punishments that would be awarded to them," she said.

Ms McCabe also ruled that books, newspapers and writing materials should not be removed as punishment.

She said Roe House prisoners who were not being confined to their cells for punishment, should be offered access to education classes and gym over above their daily hour in the exercise yard.

In a statement, the NI Prison Service said it intended to implement the report's findings.

Raymond McCartney, Sinn Fein, welcomed the report. He said the ombudsman's recommendations should be implemented without delay.

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