Northern Ireland Affairs Committee: Press Notice

Session 07-08

12 December 2007


Press Notice No 4

MPS CALL FOR URGENT ACTION TO ADDRESS INADEQUACIES IN NORTHERN IRELAND'S PRISON BUILDINGS

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee today publishes its report The Northern Ireland Prison Service, in which it urges the Government to take immediate action to improve prison buildings and calls for an end of the separation regime of paramilitary prisoners at the earliest possible date.

According to the report, existing prison buildings at HMP Magilligan are inadequate and must be replaced. The Committee recommends rebuilding on the Magilligan site in order to capitalise on the accumulated experience and many areas of good practice there.

While the Committee recognised the need for a degree of controlled movement of paramilitary prisoners, it acknowledges that the regime has had a negative impact on the educational and recreational opportunities available to some prisoners. Ending the separated regime should be a high priority for those responsible for criminal justice after devolution.

The Committee also found that there is a pressing need for a self-contained women's prison facility in Northern Ireland. Further investment in short-term solutions at the shared Hydebank Wood site is not an adequate response to this issue, say the MPs.

Commenting on the report's recommendations, Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee Sir Patrick Cormack said:

"We found that the prison service is hampered by the inefficiencies of its buildings; capital investment is required to produce a first class prison service. But we commend the work that the service is doing and recognise that the implementation of efficiency measures has not been easy.

We welcome the transfer of responsibility for prison healthcare to the health service and urge the Government and the Northern Ireland Assembly to ensure that it is completed in the very near future.

The prison service must continue with its drive to introduce a culture which encourages prison officers to engage with prisoners to a greater extent and to view their role as one of preparing for resettlement rather than solely enforcing security."

The report includes further recommendations:

€ Fine defaulters represent a disproportionate demand on the scarce resources of the prison service and while the proposal for the Supervised Activity Order in the draft Criminal Justice (NI) Order 2007 makes a good start, there is still scope for further action.

€ The very high proportion of remand prisoners represents another unjustifiable burden. The Committee recommends that the Government investigates why the criminal justice process is so slow in Northern Ireland and identifies ways of eliminating delays.

€ Early implementation of the security reclassification is essential and must underpin the prison service's estate strategy in order to meet the needs of the future prison population.

€ The large numbers of prisoners with personality disorders and the lack of a high security hospital facility in Northern Ireland create further strains for the prison service. The Committee asks the prison service and the health service jointly to consider ways of developing further facilities.

Media representatives who would like to receive a PDF copy of the report or would like to interview the Chairman should contact the Select Committee media officer Becky Jones on 0207 219 5693 or 07917 488 549.

Ends.


FURTHER INFORMATION:

Witnesses, government departments and accredited members of the press who wish to pick up a copy of the report from 7 Millbank should contact the Committee by email ([email protected]) or call 020 7219 2173. Otherwise, witnesses' copies of the Report will be posted to them. The full text will be available on the Committee's website on the day of publication.

Committee Membership is as follows: Sir Patrick Cormack MP (Chairman) (Conservative, South Staffordshire), Mr David Anderson MP (Labour, Blaydon), John Battle MP (Labour, Leeds West) (until 27.11.07), Mr Gregory Campbell MP (Democratic Unionist Party, East Londonderry), Rosie Cooper MP (Labour, West Lancashire), Mr Christopher Fraser MP (Conservative, South West Norfolk), Mr John Grogan MP (Labour, Selby), Mr Stephen Hepburn MP (Labour, Jarrow), Lady Hermon MP (Ulster Unionist Party, North Down), Kate Hoey MP (Labour, Vauxhall) (from 08.11.07), Dr Alasdair McDonnell MP (SDLP, Belfast South), Mr Denis Murphy MP (Labour, Wansbeck), Stephen Pound MP (Labour, Ealing North), Mr Sammy Wilson MP (Democratic Unionist Party, East Antrim)

Media Enquiries: Committee Media Officer: Rebecca Jones, email: [email protected] tel: 020 7219 5693

Committee Website: www.parliament.uk/niacom

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