Daily Ireland

Go-slow action hits female prisoners

A 'go-slow' strike by prison officers in the North of Ireland is causing major problems for female inmates who have been held in their cells for extended periods of time for almost two weeks, Daily Ireland can reveal.
The prisoners, who are detained at Hydebank Woods Prison and Young Offenders Unit in Belfast, have been held under a restricted regime for 11 days.
A Belfast solicitor’s firm has written to the Prison Service on behalf of one of its female clients, a remand prisoner, demanding an explanation for the prolonged detention periods.
Although the woman has not yet been convicted of the charges against her, she is detained for the same length of time as other inmates in the unit.
The firm has warned the Prison Service that judicial review proceedings will be initiated today if no explanation is offered.
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has also logged a request for information on the holding arrangements at the prison.
However, commissioner Peter O’Neill says it has received no response and is unable to conduct a proper investigation into the issue. The commission has been involved in a long-running, but unsuccessful campaign to gain access to places of detention in the North.
A spokesperson for the Prison Service said: “The inmates are not getting out of their cells as much as they are used to, but they do get out for visits and evening association".
There was a withdrawal of goodwill by the Prison Officers Association on February 7. Since then, prison staff have refused to work overtime.
Evidence was presented to the Prison Service Pay Review body earlier this week, and recommendations for a change in pay are expected some time next month.
The spokesperson added: “The Prison Service is in regular contact with the Prison Officers Association in an effort to resolve these difficulties.”
The Northern Ireland Prison Service announced its decision to relocate female prisoners from Mourne House, Maghaberry, to Ash House at Hydebank Wood in April of last year. A report by the Human Rights Commission released last October detailed human rights abuses at Maghaberry where the regime was assessed between March and June. The report talked of a woman dying in her cell, two suicide attempts and a girl held in isolation in a cell with no mattress and a potty for a toilet.
However, the decision to move the women prisoners was criticised by the Human Rights Commission, which raised concern over the ability of the Hydebank centre to cater adequately for the prisoners.
Linda Moore, a co-author of a report by the Commission, said the Prison Service ignored its concerns surrounding the transfer.
"Unfortunately we felt it was a done deal for some time and the Prison Service wouldn't listen to the concerns of bodies like ourselves," she said.
Ms Moore said that if facilities at Maghaberry were modified, the prison would have been the best place for the female inmates.

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