As two academics who have researched and chronicled the imprisonment of women in Northern Ireland over the last decade we welcome the long overdue release of Ms Price from custody.
Thirteen months ago we wrote to the Justice Minister concerning the violations of international human rights standards regarding her continuing detention without trial. Having visited Ms Price in prison and consulted with her family we stated our ‘profound concern about the conditions and regime under which she was, and has remained, imprisoned and the impact on her deteriorating health and well-being’. We stated:
Marian Price’s particular situation raises further concerns given that she is detained in isolation, in recognition of her status as a separated prisoner. Apparently she was moved from HMP Maghaberry because of concerns about her deteriorating health. Having visited her in Hydebank Wood we consider that her health and well-being are threatened significantly by the conditions under which she is held.
We considered the physical and emotional debilitation endured by Ms Price was as a direct consequence of the deleterious conditions under which she was held. Subsequently she was moved to hospital under Prison Service responsibility and still disciplined as a prisoner including cuffing during visits. Throughout this period, innocent until proven guilty, Ms Price has been in solitary confinement. In our letter to the Justice Minister, we stated:
Although Marian is permitted a family visit most days, most of her time is spent in isolation, thus threatening her mental and emotional health. In 2011 the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Méndez called for an absolute prohibition of solitary confinement for a period over 15 days, on the grounds that it constitutes not only a threat to health, but also that it can amount to torture, inhuman and degrading treatment. Marian Price has endured much longer than this in isolation, and her health has suffered as a consequence.
We urged the Minister to negotiate with the UK Government’s Secretary of State the release of Ms Price on humanitarian grounds, at least to a hospital in the community. It was never our intention that in hospital she would remain technically in custody and subject to prison discipline.
It has taken two years to grant Ms Price bail, the earlier decision of the Court. Consequently, for two years – the equivalent of a four year sentence - she has been held in virtual solitary confinement. This amounts to a politically-charged decision taken outside the judicial powers of the jurisdiction. Ms Price’s seriously declining health throughout that period can be attributed to the abject failure of the State to meet its ‘duty of care’ obligations enshrined in international conventions to which it is a signatory.
Professor Phil Scraton School of Law, Queen’s University and Visiting Research Fellow, Amherst College, Massachusetts
Dr Linda Moore School of Criminology, Politics and Social Policy, University of Ulster