13 February 2006

Inmate welfare group to meet prison bosses

Daily Ireland

Connla Young

A group representing republican prisoners is to meet prison service chiefs to discuss rising tensions in Maghaberry Prison.
Representatives of the Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association have said the meeting on Wednesday was arranged to address complaints raised by republican inmates held in the Co Antrim prison’s Roe House unit.
Prisoners have complained in recent months that they are being harassed by prison staff.
It is understood several prisoners have complained of being physically attacked when taken to the prison punishment block, which is not covered by closed-circuit television cameras.
Other prisoners have complained after being put through numerous body searches, including strip searches.
One prisoner recently complained that he had been searched 42 times in one week.
An ongoing point of contention for prisoners at Maghaberry is the cancellation of open family visits at the last minute.
Prison authorities often attempt to justify this practice by claiming that sniffer dogs have detected illegal substances on visitors.
As well as facing rigorous searches, prisoners in Roe House are monitored through CCTV and listening devices.
Marion Price, a spokeswoman for the prisoners welfare group, said conditions were intolerable for prisoners in Maghaberry.
“We were told, once prisoners were segregated in 2003, there may be teething problems with the new regime but, once staff got used to it, things would relax.
“But that didn’t happen, and staff use the system to harass prisoners.
“The fact is people are being beaten up and continually harassed. Prison staff are not supposed to wear emblems or badges but they do.
“Also, they are supposed to cover up their tattoos but they don’t. For prisoners, it’s a hostile environment and we want to find a solution before the situation escalates.
“We will talk to anybody in trying to improve conditions for prisoners,” she said.
A prison service spokesman declined to comment ahead of this week’s meeting.

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