Health Check On NI Prisons

A high-profile committee of MPs is to investigate health and education provision at Northern Ireland’s prisons. The move comes after Roseanne Irvine, 34, hanged herself in her Maghaberry cell in March 2004 after failing to see a doctor about mental health problems.

The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee is to investigate education and health facilities at the province`s three jails. Women have been moved to the Hydebank Wood young offenders centre but a prison governor, Isobel Millar, told the inquest she would like a completely separate prison for females.

Prison psychiatric nurse Rhonda Fagan told the inquest the doctor was too busy on the male wing to see Ms Irvine, even though she had threatened to commit suicide. The mother of a young daughter, she was on remand on an arson charge when she died.

Belfast coroner John Leckey branded the regime sexist and said he was concerned about the shortcomings. He was also told that the mixed prison hospital contained austere cells similar to those in punishment wards. Mr Leckey had compared conditions to the Tower of London.

The only high security adults` prison, at Maghaberry, is housing increasing numbers of inmates. A new centre is due to be built to replace the prison at Magilligan, Co Derry. But with the public demanding increasingly tough sentences, the demand on prisons has been growing across the UK.

The Maze, which held many paramilitary prisoners, is being demolished to make way for a multi-sports stadium and concert venue planned for the site near Lisburn.

A spokeswoman for the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee said members would conduct “an inquiry into the operation of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, in particular to examine whether the existing prison estate is adequate and appropriate for the secure accommodation of Northern Ireland`s prisoners, and whether the Prison Service appropriately meets the health and education and training needs of prisoners. “The Committee will also examine such other issues as may arise in the course of the inquiry.”