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Women 'needlessly strip-searched' in NI prison

Prison inspection reports found that “lessons had not been fully learned from recent deaths in custody”.
Oct 1st 2013, 11:05 AM 8,372 23

A PRISON INSPECTION report in Northern Ireland has found that women were “needlessly strip-searched” on arrival and randomly after visits.

The report, conducted at Ash House, Northern Ireland’s only female prison, found that this level of strip-searching was “excessive”.

Some women were strip-searched after visits, on a random basis and these searches took place in the women’s reception area. The report recommended that this should only be done on the basis of an individual risk assessment.

“There was no local security strategy and little to indicate that specific key threats to the security of Ash House were identified or acted upon,” the report found.

The women’s prison is located in Hydebank Wood Young Offenders Centre (YOC), which also went under inspection. Here too, the inspector found that prisoners were strip-searched entering and leaving the prison.

In a statement yesterday, Criminal Justice Inspection (CJI) which conducted inspections, said the reports “raised serious concerns around the performance” of the two prisons and their ability to deliver positive outcomes for prisoners in their care.

Deaths

Commenting on other findings, Chief Inspector Brendan McGuigan said inspectors were “disappointed to find that lessons had not been fully learned from recent deaths in custody at both the YOC and Ash House”.

Performance against the four internationally recognised ‘healthy prison’ tests of safety, respect, purposeful activity and resettlement, was also concerning. Performance in relation to safety and respect at the YOC were found to be ‘not sufficiently good’ while purposeful activity was categorised as ‘poor’.

Safety was also a concern, with many prisoners reporting feeling victimised by other prisoners and staff and there was found to be “little progress” in developing a robust approach to violence reduction.

Young men at Hydebank were found to be spending too long locked in their cells and activities were often cancelled at short notice.  Concerns existed around the small number of prisoners accessing work and education, and inspectors also identified that the needs of prisoners with low levels of literacy and numeracy were not being met.

Overly restrictive

In Ash House women’s prison, prisoners were found to be subject to an “overly restrictive” security regime due to sharing the site with young male prisoners.

“The approach in both facilities to addressing substance misuse and tackling what was perceived to be a drugs problem, did not provide a satisfactory level of reassurance,” said the Chief Inspector.

While inspectors found some examples of good practice in both facilities, particularly in relation to offender management arrangements, McGuigan stressed the overall level of performance must not be allowed to continue.

Read: Prison reports: Improving facilities, some violence and concerns about lock-ups>

Read: Shatter responds to concerns about Irish prisons>

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Michelle Hennessy

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