Provision for women prisoners does not meet their needs: Prison Service accepts recommendations

The relocation of women prisoners to Ash House at Hydebank Wood had not tackled the underlying and fundamental issues in relation to women and girls in prison said HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers, and the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice, Kit Chivers, today, publishing their joint report on an inspection of Ash House.   

The Northern Ireland Prison Service has accepted the recommendations of the report and has published its Action Plan for implementing them.
The inspection, commissioned by the new Criminal Justice Inspectorate, followed a critical report by the Prisons Inspectorate in 2002 into conditions and treatment for women prisoners, then held at Mourne House at Maghaberry Prison.  
The report is critical of the fact that the Northern Ireland Prison Service took no action to implement the recommendations of that report.  Instead, following two deaths and a critical report from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the women and girls were moved to Ash House.  The Chief Inspectors described this as “a poorly implemented decision.”
Inspectors found that at Ash House the proportion of female to male prison officers looking after the women had increased and relationships between staff and prisoners had improved since the move.  However, the facilities, on a site shared with male young offenders, lacked integral sanitation, and the staff were insufficiently trained and prepared to receive the women.  Though women were out of their cells, there was too little for them to do and they had lost open access to fresh air and grounds.
In particular, staff lacked the support and knowledge to manage some extremely damaged young women at risk of suicide or self-harm – an issue which had been highlighted in the Human Rights Commission’s report.   
• Inspectors found two young women, one a juvenile, being held in ‘anti-suicide suits’ in cold and unfurnished cells 

• Documentation revealed an imperfect understanding of the motives and management of self-harming women 

• Disciplinary measures were used to punish self-harming behaviour 

• Child protection procedures were seriously deficient and Ash House was not suitable for girls  


In conclusion, the Chief Inspectors said: “The Northern Ireland Prison Service urgently needs to seek the help of prison services in other jurisdictions that have developed policies and practices to meet the specific needs of women, and to train and support a separate manager for the women’s unit at Ash House.  But, in the longer term, it needs to plan for a discrete and suitable separate location in which women can be held safely and purposefully.”
The NI Prison Service has responded positively to the Chief Inspectors’ report, accepting almost all their recommendations.  Work is planned to install integral sanitation in the cells in Ash House, and the NIPS recognises that even so Ash House cannot be a permanent solution to the problem of accommodating the women.   There is now a dedicated Governor with responsibility for the women prisoners, reporting to the Governor of Hydebank Wood, and many aspects of the regime will be improved.
The NI Prison Service will report regularly to the Inspectors on progress against the Action Plan, which is published together with the report. 
Notes to Editors
There are some 30 women prisoners accommodated at Ash House.  There is a wide age range, and the offences for which they are in custody range from fine default to murder.  There is no separation on the basis of paramilitary allegiance.  Separated women prisoners may still be held at Maghaberry, though there are none at present.   
Ash House is one of six blocks on the Hydebank Wood site.  The other blocks house about 250 young offenders (all male) mainly aged between 17 and 23.  The educational, training and recreational facilities are used by both groups of prisoners, and though they use them at different times they have to move across common areas to reach them.
The inspection took place in November 2004.  It was the second prison inspection to have been conducted under the new arrangements created by the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002.  HM Inspectorate of Prisons previously inspected Northern Ireland prisons on an extra-statutory basis.  The Act gave statutory responsibility for inspection of prisons to the new Criminal Justice Inspectorate for Northern Ireland (CJINI).  However under the Act CJINI may call on the help of other expert Inspectorates such as HM Inspectorate of Prisons, and did so for the inspection of Ash House. 
The full inspection report, including the action plan prepared by the Governor of Hydebank Wood, is available at: 
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission published its report, The Hurt Inside: the imprisonment of women and girls in Northern Ireland, in October 2004:
Media Enquiries: 02890378275/07799115253