Time long past for change at Maghaberry prison

Dear Sir,

Please allow me space in your paper in order to highlight the conditions which currently exist for Republican prisoners in Maghaberry Prison.

In conversations with my husband I was horrified when I heard of the conditions and tensions which are increasing daily in Maghaberry due to alleged physical, social, emotional and psychological abuse that republican prisoners are being subjected to in Roe house by some prison staff. It is my understanding that a number of complaints have been lodged with the Prison Service Ombudsman.

As well as that my husband Tony was badly brutalised by prison warden staff in Roe house in December. I always understood that prison was the punishment, not a place to be punished.

My husband is on remand as are many of the men in Roe house. The Prisoners are currently on a dirty protest and no wash protest essentially opposing the lack of association given to prisoners in Roe and Bush house and the daily forced strip searches.

I appreciate that there are some wardens who do their job professionally and respectfully but I am also aware of those who have allegedly abused their position and carried out heinous attacks on prisoners, their details have been forwarded to the Prison Ombudsman Office alongside the numerous complaints.

I have read Tony Pearson’s report, a former Governor himself, into Maghaberry prison and the vast number of recommendations which have yet to be implemented I am left asking myself who’s really running Maghaberry prison. Mrs Taylor referred the Prison Service Director Robin Masefield when he stated …..“POA members are choosing to perform duties towards prisoners, families and colleagues in a way that risks the safety of others and undermines the rehabilitative work that the public require us to carry out on their behalf.”

This provides little comfort for the wives and children of remand prisoners. I am also aware of Pauline Mc Cabe’s report which also made 16 recommendations after another prisoner also complained of the 23hr lock down. At that time only three prisoners were allowed out on the landing at one time. At this time Ms McCabe called for an immediate review and suggested that this should be increased, yet today only one prisoner is permitted on the landing at any one time.

It is my belief that the POA have free reign in all affairs and appear to be a law unto their own and frown upon suggestions for improved conditions from their seniors. Finlay Spratt the Chairman of the POA also claimed management had not made any constructive proposals for change.

My husband is on 23hr lock down and only let out of his cell to make daily phone calls, have family visits or to visit the Governor, at all times Tony is chaperoned by up to four prison guards and monitored continuously by the Maghaberry CCTV, the remainder of Tony’s time is spent in his cell. Regardless of this high level of supervision, Tony who refuses to be strip searched has his clothes forcibly removed by the prisons riot squad to have cavity searches carried out each and every time he leaves and returns to his cell. This is clearly a violation of his human rights as there is no justification for this inhumane treatment.

A number of republican prisoners have now launched a series of complaints with the Prison Service Ombudsman Ann McCabe consisting of alleged physical, social, emotional and psychological abuse.

These concerns highlight the need to address the outstanding two demands of the prisoners i.e.

1. The ending of strip searches and

2. The resumption of free association on prison wings and the need to fully implement the 160+ outstanding recommendations into the reform of Maghaberry Prison.

I would call on David Ford the Justice Minister who signed the August 2011 agreement along with the POA and representatives of the republican groupings to implement the that agreement and end these draconian and brutal searches. Numerous suggestions have been made to the POA and David Ford as alternatives to these abusive and often violent searches and these are outlined in the agreement.

All we are asking for is the ending of the abuse of prisoners and for the full implementation of what has become known as the August Agreement.


Loraine Taylor