Prisons for the future..?

Today the Pensive Quill features an article from Emmet Doyle who writes in a personal capacity and blogs regularly at A Wee Simple Man

The Prison Service have released the Outline Estates Strategy for the period 2012-2022 and it makes for rather interesting reading, to say the least. In this entry I want to outline the main provisions, in my opinion, within the document, with a concentration on Maghaberry Prison.

I want to ensure I get the information across, reading a 100+ page document is not something most people want to do or have the time to do, but I think it is a crucial issue that we should all be educated on, so I hope to give a brief - very brief background, then outline the short and medium term plans outlined in the Strategy with commentary. Some of the issues raised will be of some concern, which is why I have waited to write this entry after Pat Ramsey MLA had asked some important questions in relation to separated prisoners and physical facilities outlined in the Strategy.


Our three prisons, Magilligan, Hydebank Wood and Maghaberry have a combined CNA (Certified Normal Accommodation) - i.e. the optimal prison population, of 1765 places as of February 2012.

Magilligan is a medium security prison, which NI Prison Service intends to decommission in 2018, pending approval.

Hydebank Wood currently holds female prisoners as well as the Youth Justice Centre for juvenile prisoners.

Maghaberry is the largest of the prisons, holding remand, life sentenced, short sentenced, Category A and separated prisoners - all male.

One-third of our total prison population is currently doubled-up (525) – the vast majority of which are held at Maghaberry.

There has been a massive 84% increase in our prison population over ten years 2001-2011, and the Prison Service project a further 32.3% increase by May 2021. By any standards, a re-think of accommodation and facilities is required.

Short-term plans

In the immediate short term, a new 120 cell accommodation block is currently under construction in Maghaberry which will help to alleviate accommodation pressure as outlined by the overcrowding in the facility as a whole. The block with be called 'Quoile House' and will be built alongside a new Special Protection Unit (SPU) with 20 cells called 'Shimna House' at a combined cost of £15.2 million. Both are expected to open mid 2012 and will bring Maghaberry's population capability to 1,012 - it currently sits at 1,004, which leaves it overcrowded by 132 prisoners.

I cannot stress enough - that neither Quoile or Shimna Houses will be used as an extension to Roe or Bush Houses - i.e. the separated units. This is not within the plans outlined and the Minister confirms this is the case. I would point out that I screwed my face up at the documents definition of separated prisoners; "members or supporters of proscribed organisations" - what about Gerry McGeough amongst others?

I had noticed that jaws were a-flapping on social media sites about an extension to Roe House in particular as population pressures come to the fore there, but I can assure you that there is no extension being built to that House, nor will the new facilities be used to hold separated prisoners, that has been confirmed in writing to Foyle SDLP MLA Pat Ramsey who has been heavily involved in prisoners issues over the last period. (Cheque in post, please!)

Another 240 cell accommodation block will be created within Maghaberry by 2015/16 to again address the population stress within the prison.

Erne, Lagan and Foyle 'Square Houses' will be refurbished going forward, but in the long term, will be demolished to cater for the reconfiguration of the facility. Maghaberry has six 'Houses' - Bush, Roe, Bann, Foyle, Lagan and Erne. All new committals, those awaiting transfer to Magilligan, fine defaulters and vulnerable prisoners are held in Lagan House.

Erne House accommodates the majority of the life sentence prisoners in Maghaberry with Bann housing all other sentenced inmates. Foyle House accommodates up to 108 remand prisoners.

Medium-long term plans

The Prison Review Team had outlined a range of recommendations in its recent report, and some of these are acted upon in this Strategy.

Key to these, is the 'reconfiguration' of Maghaberry into three 'mini-prisons'. One each for remand/short sentenced/new committal prisoners, long sentenced/life prisoners and the final one for Category A and separated prisoners currently held within Roe and Bush Houses, respectively. All Category A prisoners will remain in Maghaberry. The idea here is to isolate the needs of each group so that appropriate security and accessibility requirements can be put in place, which is obviously different depending on their status, while at present, the regime as pointed out by the Review Team, is 'rigid'.

Mourne House has a capacity of 182 and currently houses life sentence prisoners who would move to the main prison. This is to be the 'mini-prison' for Category A and separated prisoners. Reconfiguration of Mourne would require significant security upgrades at considerable cost - up to £14.5 million. Martin and Wilson Houses within Mourne will be decommissioned as part of this process. Martin House comprises inmates with less than three years to serve until release.

Significantly, a new prison is planned to house Category B prisoners in a medium security facility. Subject to necessary consultation, approvals and business case process, such a facility could be operational by 2018/19 and will cost up to £140 million. The document outlines the house that the site adjacent to Maghaberry would be suitable.

In positive news, a new visiting facility will be built in Maghaberry in the next 4-6 years as part of a £33.75m investment which includes the new 240 accommodation block.

I also wanted to single out what I felt was an important paragraph within the document, namely;
2.3 says ‘At present the prison estate does not have a dedicated facility for Cat A women prisoners, although provision has been made for the accommodation of a small number of high security women prisoners at Hydebank Wood'

A makeshift provision for Marian Price at Hydebank is unacceptable, a 58-year old woman being held in a Category A setting is vile - notwithstanding the point that she should not be in prison in the first place, but I thought it relevant to point that out.

In conclusion, there is some misinformation out there as to construction projects within the Maghaberry site, which I understand has caused some consternation in certain sections, I hope I have debunked those and given some idea as to the overall plans for the future of the Prisons Estate.

I would urge anyone with an interest who wishes to comment on the consultation which is open until the end of September to do so, I include the link below.

And of course, I welcome any questions or comments about what is becoming an increasingly important issue not just in political circles - Republican in particular, but also a massive public finance priority that we as citizens should take an interest in. Now I'm off for dinner, came straight home and comprised this!


  1. Emmet
    good to see you getting your teeth into the issue. You and your energy levels have ended up in the right place. As well as prison conditions, my eyebrows have been raised at the number of people being found dead in Maghabery. Keep it up Emmet. Best of luck.

  2. Emmet,

    great work here. It helps us achieve a better undestanding of what is happening in the jails.

  3. From Helen McClafferty (part 1):

    They Are A Breed Apart. The Forgotten Ones. Left Behind During The Evolution of Mankind. A Fine Example Is The Lord Morrow.
    by Damian Herron, NI Chair Free Gerry McGeough Campaign.

    The English Lord Morrow is whinging yet again about the cost of legal aid granted to Gerry McGeough. He wants the Minister for Justice David Ford to put a stop on any future legal aid that Gerry McGeough is entitled to receive. He wants to have a "percentage" of the cost of legal aid granted to Gerry McGeough re-couped from the Gerry McGeough Family Fund.

    Question for written answer on 24th July 2012 by Morrow in the Stormont Assembly. AQW13624/11-15

    24. Lord Morrow (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

    To ask the Minister of Justice, given the amount of legal aid awarded for Gerry McGeough’s numerous court challenges, and taking into account that all such actions have failed, whether he will instruct that no further funding should be certified to pursue any follow-up actions; and whether he will seek a percentage, of the legal aid awarded to be re-couped from the Gerry McGeough and Family Fund which hosted appeals for donations to cover his legal fees.

    The Lord Morrow is asking the Minister for Justice to politically interfere with a decision taken by the Legal Services Commission and this sets a dangerous precedent.

    When it comes to the case of Gerry McGeough, the English Lord Morrow refuses to recognise the European Convention on Human Rights.

    The ECHR: Article 6: Right to a fair trial: Paragraph 3

  4. From Helen McClafferty (part 2)


    “(c) to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of
    his own choosing or, if he has not sufficient means to pay for
    legal assistance, to be given it free when the interests of justice so require”.

    How low can these pathetic and hypocritical Unionists stoop. What has this English Lord got to say about the total cost of the miscarriage of justice against Gerry McGeough and his family or the cost of Gerry's imprisonment in Maghaberry which, if the English Lord had his way, would see Gerry imprisoned on pre-Good Friday Agreement unproven allegations until 2031. Naturally, this statement comes from a Unionist Politician who not only gets paid as an English Lord, the Baron of Clogher Valley in the County of Tyrone, but who also puts his greedy hand out for his salary as an MLA and as if that is not enough, he is a paid councillor. Maybe the English Lord would like to donate a "percentage" of his earnings as a tripple jobber to cover the cost of the miscarriage of justice against Gerry McGeough. Has he forgotten or simply ignored the total cost of the miscarriages of justice against the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six or the Maguire Seven to name but a few massive miscarriages of justice against the Irish people by the British with full support from their bootlicking Unionist politicians. Maybe the English Lord would like to cover the cost of bringing British paratroopers to justice for shooting dead unarmed civilians on Bloody Sunday. Ballymurphy, Lord Morrow? Maybe the man who likes to call himself the English Lord would cover the cost of seeking justice for the eighty-three innocent unarmed civilians murdered between 1970 and 1997 in his own County of Tyrone at the hands of British soldiers, RUC, UDR or loyalists in collusion the British forces.

    The problem with Unionists such as the English Baron is that they are completely and utterly incapable of comprehending the true meaning of the word justice. They are a breed apart. The forgotten ones. Left behind during the evolution of mankind with the Lord Morrow being the finest example of them all and Postman Pat with his UDR cap not far behind.

    Donations made to the Gerry McGeough Family Fund are to help a family survive. Donations are not made to provide legal aid against British injustice and Unionist bigotry and vindictiveness. But the English Lord Morrow who would have us all believe he is a good living Christian soldier would prefer to see a mother and four children starve because they are Catholic.

  5. From Helen McClafferty:

    Question for written answer on 24th July 2012 by Morrow in the Stormont Assembly. AQW13624/11-15

    24. Lord Morrow (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)

    To ask the Minister of Justice, given the amount of legal aid awarded for Gerry McGeough’s numerous court challenges, and taking into account that all such actions have failed, whether he will instruct that no further funding should be certified to pursue any follow-up actions; and whether he will seek a percentage, of the legal aid awarded to be re-couped from the Gerry McGeough and Family Fund which hosted appeals for donations to cover his legal fees.

    The Issue of Legal Aid Is Not A Matter For Lord Morrow
    by Helen McClafferty, Chair, USA - Free Gerry McGeough Campaign

    What should be highlighted is the ‘triple jobbing’ issue and no doubt there are expenses claimed in respect of each of these positions from taxpayers money of course.

    In any case, where legal aid is granted both the solicitors and counsel have a duty to the legal aid fund – which means they must be responsible in their approach when determining if the case has merit and if so to pursue legal aid for that case. They are therefore required to satisfy the NI Legal Services Commission that there is merit in bringing the case in the first place.

    This is a stringent test and one that is applied in all cases. This case, and in particular the Appeal, was the subject of an Independent Appeal Committee hearing following which all members were satisfied that legal aid should be granted, on the basis of the material before it and the arguments advanced by solicitors/counsel.

    The fact Lord Morrow is asking the Minister to consider instructing that no further funding be granted to Gerry McGeough is inviting him to politically interfere in a decision that should be one for the LSC and not the Justice Dept. This sets a dangerous precedent.

    As for the Gerry McGeough Family Fund, Gerry’s legal team have never received any payment from the fund toward legal fees or expenses. All donations to this fund has been given to Gerry's wife and 4 children to help with their survival while Gerry is incarcerated. Therefore Lord Morrow's suggestion that "a percentage of the fees be recouped from the fund" is vindictive, but predictable.

  6. From Sandy Boyer:

    Gerry Adams Meets Owen Paterson about Marian Price and Martin Corey

    SINN FÉÍN President Gerry Adams TD this afternoon met British Secretary of State Owen Paterson in the Dáil and challenged him on the continued imprisonment of Marian Price and Martin Corey.

    The Sinn Féin leader also raised other related prison issues.

    The conversation briefly touched on the issues of Corporation Tax and the potential for all-island, cross-Border economic development projects.

    However, the main focus of the meeting was the continued imprisonment of Marian Price and the decision by the Secretary of State last week to appeal
    the court decision to release Martin Corey, both of which the Sinn Féin leader described as “unjust”.

    The Belfast High Court had ruled Corey's detention is a breach of the European Convention of Human Rights and had ordered his release.

    Gerry Adams said today:

    “Marian Price is not well. Martin Corey was released by the courts. Both of these citizens are entitled to due process, which they have been denied.

    They should be released and I put it very strongly to Mr Paterson that this should be done.”

  7. Sandy.

    That's very nice of Gerry to catch Patterson in the Dail, He should be up in the six counties with Martyboy and Co outside the Gaol with Placards demonstrating with everyone else for the release Of Martin , Marian, and , Gerry, also to stop the strip searches and allow full political status, and there immediate release. Has PSF forgotten who put them were they are, I'm beginning to think they have. Does he still not realise, there is no due process and never has been, its the same old Diplock shit for Republicans but due process for everyone else.