Solitary confinement in Northern Ireland prisons breaching UN rules

Irish Legal News reports…

Vulnerable prisoners in Northern Ireland have been held in solitary confinement for long periods in breach of UN rules, a watchdog has said in a damning report.

Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJINI) led an independent review into conditions in care and supervision units (CSUs) in Northern Ireland prisons in partnership with inspectors from the Regulation and Equality Improvement Authority (RQIA) And the Education and Training Inspectorate.

The review was ordered by justice minister Naomi Long in November 2020 after investigative journalists at The Detail found that there were 611 occasions between 1 November 2016 and 31 October 2019 when prisoners spent 15 days or longer in CSUs – considered to constitute torture under the Mandela Rules.

The report was originally due to be published in June 2021, but was delayed by months for unclear reasons.

Jacqui Durkin, the chief inspector of criminal justice in Northern Ireland, said: “Prisoners can be segregated in CSUs away from the general prison population for their own safety or the safety of others, for breaking prison rules or because they are suspected of having drugs or other illicit items in their possession.

“Some prisoners placed in the CSUs have severe mental disorders and individual needs that make them more vulnerable, complex and particularly challenging for staff to care for.

“However, regardless of why any male or female prisoner is segregated in a CSU, there are accepted expectations developed by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons in England and Wales (HMIP) and UN standard minimum rules for their treatment and care that apply, which include access to health care and purposeful activity, like learning, skills and physical activity.”

The review published today “found evidence that the regime experienced by a number of CSU prisoners did not meet the UN standard minimum rules, known as the Mandela Rules” because prisoners in CSUs “were spending too long in their cell without meaningful human contact”, she said.

Mrs Long, speaking earlier in the Assembly, said the report indicated the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) is “failing in a small number of key areas”.

The minister said she and the prison service’s director-general “not only accept the recommendations in the review but have already implemented some of them and are implementing others”.

She added: “Like every organisation, much is expected from the Prison Service, and rightly so. The service does not shy away from that – in fact, it does quite the opposite – nor does it shy away from apologising when it fails to provide the level of service that we have come to expect from it.

“Therefore, I have no hesitation in apologising to those prisoners who did not receive the level of engagement that the report identifies as the minimum standard expected.”


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