The Northern Ireland Minister for Justice, David Ford MLA, has responded to concerns from the Celtic League about the decision to house a female prisoner in the all-male Maghaberry Prison.
The full text of the Ministers letter is set out below and a response from the Celtic League to some of the issues his letter raises is also attached.
“FROM THE OFFICE OF THE MINISTER OF JUSTICE
8th June 2011
Thank you for your letter dated 21 May, in which you raise concerns about the decision to accommodate Ms Marion McGlinchey (Price) in Maghaberry Prison. From your letter it is unclear whether Ms McGlinchey has engaged you to make representations on her behalf.
The decision to transfer Ms McGlinchey to `Maghaberry prison was deemed necessary on the basis of a comprehensive risk assessment.
I am familiar with Section 8 of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and, clearly, there are drawbacks and concerns when locating a female prisoner in an adult male establishment.
However Ms McGlinchey is currently accommodated in a self-contained accommodation block in Maghaberry Prison, which has been dedicated for the accommodation of women prisoners and in which an appropriate regime can be provided. I am satisfied that efforts are well in hand to address any issues with regard to the regime and environment available to her there, with a view to ensuring that appropriate measures are taken to address her gender-specific needs. In addition, Ms McGlinchey has been assigned a `key worker’ and her general health and well-being will be monitored on an ongoing basis.
As you will be aware, the Northern Ireland Prison Service is subject to oversight by a wide range of independent bodies, including the Criminal Justice Inspectorate for Northern Ireland, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, the
Independent Monitoring Board and the Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. Should Ms McGlinchey have any concerns with regard to the conditions of her imprisonment she also has recourse to a confidential complaints system and to the Prisoner Ombudsman.
DAVID FORD MLA
Minister of Justice”
Text of response to Minister below:
“Mr David Ford MLA
Minister of Justice
Thank you for your letter of the 8th of June. I apologise for the delay in responding to some of the issues you raised and will forward this response by email to mitigate any further delay.
You asked (1st para) if the Celtic League had been `engaged’ by the specific prisoner mentioned in our correspondence to make representations and I can confirm that no such approach was received.
The Celtic League raised the issue on the basis that it is generally deemed unsuitable for a female prisoner to be housed in an all-male facility.
The Celtic League is an internationally accredited NGO and raises concerns about human rights and social issues in relation to all the Celtic countries and penal affairs falls within that remit.
Turning to the comments in the final paragraph of your letter I would respond as follows – If the Celtic League receives concerns from individual prisoners in any of the Celtic countries we would advise them to utilise the internal processes in the first instance. If the issue raised gave rise to a more general concern about prison policy we would raise it with the relevant authority and thereafter with any appropriate regional or international rights body.
I am pleased to record that in our dealings with prison and justice departments in Britain, Ireland and the Isle of Man we have always had a positive response and we are aware that robust checks and balances are now in place. However I am sure you will agree that this has not always been the case and it is only via the actions of rights bodies, NGOs and concerned politicians that the current situation has been achieved. Indeed in one area of interest to the Celtic League (Brittany) the situation vis a vis prison standards still falls short of what now prevails in these islands.
I trust this clarification is helpful.
J B Moffatt (Mr)
Director of Information