Maghaberry, Secure not Safe

  • This is an extremely distressing case for this young man and his loved ones, who I have spoken with. They rightly cannot understand how their son was able to inflict such horrific injuries on his body when he was meant to be, it is believed, under enhanced supervision - Pat Ramsey, MLA.
Earlier today Belfast republican activist Angela Nelson expressed concerns on this blog about the regime in Maghaberry Prison. Within hours of her piece appearing the Guardian’s Ireland correspondent, Henry McDonald, was reporting on an horrific incident that took place in the prison earlier in the month. A prisoner from Derry city, Sean Lynch, managed ‘to gouge his eyes out and mutilate his testicles inside his cell.’ The Guardian also reported that he had slashed his wrists and that the incident had left him permanently blind.

At 22 years of age what life does Sean Lynch have in front of him? He will need constant care and attention. His family must be distraught. As Pat Ramsey argued ‘something has gone badly wrong, and a thorough investigation must take place to ensure this never happens again.'

While useful for rapid fire targeting it might be pointless at this stage to blame the prison staff on duty if they were not on alert about the condition of Mr Lynch who was clearly mentally disturbed. If they were cognisant and ignored their duty of care, as suggested by Mr Ramsey, in a repeat of the situation where Colin Bell died, then by all means they should face the action called for by Independent councillor, Gary Donnelly who earlier this week arranged a meeting between the family of Sean Lynch and a delegation of TDs. Councillor Donnelly who has seen the inside of Maghaberry told the Guardian that:
the treatment of this young man is a disgrace and the prison staff who were obviously negligent in his care should be suspended pending a full investigation.
Pat Ramsay has claimed that there was 'shameful failure of the duty of care.’ The task is to identify where this malfunction occurred so that it may be rectified before a similar incident takes place. In a previous article on this blog about the treatment of Derry prisoner Kieran McLaughlin, a Howard League for Penal Reform spokesperson was cited, claiming that that prisons:
are being used as a dumping ground for people who commit offences related to their illness or disability and in place of treatment they are incarcerated in penal dustbins. 
There is an arguable case that the prison staff on duty are the mere recipients of a policy dump made by legislators, judiciary and others external to - and at a higher echelon within authority - hands on prison management.

People with mental illness need to be diverted away from prison rather than being dumped into it. Whatever the failings of prison staff, they are not health professionals and should not be tasked with the management of people who should be patients rather than prisoners.

This is a governmental policy matter, rather than a prison procedural one. It needs addressed at the uppermost levels of political authority. The real question is one that seeks to interrogate political responsibility and accountability. Disciplining individual prison staff might be an expedient but is more likely the wrong answer to the right question.

1 comment:

  1. prisons are used as an alternative to mental health provision, we dump our sick in prisons while the criminal-minded populate the upper echelons of our political systems.