The joint HMIP/CJINI report released on Thursday 5th November 2015 is ample proof, if needed, of what Republican Prisoners have repeatedly stated in relation to the nature of the individuals and organisations who have long attempted to degrade and undermine Republican Prisoners within Maghaberry jail. The report gravely condemned the jail to an unprecedented degree and criticised issues which directly impact upon Republican Prisoners such as excessive controlled movement and the ‘oppressive’ use of electronic grilles and turnstiles. Although the report critiques the management of, and the conditions in, the jail generally, there are however a number of points which need highlighted regarding misrepresentations surrounding the treatment of Republican Political Prisoners specifically.
Foremost, the report addresses the fact that Republican Roe House has a disproportionate amount of staff and management resources, which is portrayed to be to the detriment of the broader prison population. This is raised on a number of occasions throughout the report, stating that Republican Prisoners avail of ‘better’ staffing levels and better unlock times than that of the wider prison population. This is misleading and suggests that Republican Prisoners receive preferential treatment. The report fails to make clear that the staffing levels “required” for Republican Roe House are a result of a backroom deal between the POA and jail management. This staff to prisoner ratio has been criticised in every critical report from 2004, including previous HMIP/CJINI and prison review reports such as that of Anne Owers. These staffing ratios were brokered as a sop to the POA and subsequently implemented by the jail administration.
The jail is determined to maintain the politically motivated restrictive regime and unlocks in Roe House, and so presents a facade of necessity in retaining such a disproportionate amount of staff, thus giving justification to the failed controlled movement policy. Whilst the report notes that the Republican wing is subject to separate treatment, it fails to properly address the fact that such a situation exists only because Republican Prisoners are the only prisoners subjected to such severe controlled movement. This difference in treatment exists because Roe House is the only wing comprised of political prisoners in the jail; prisoners who are subjected to an oppressive criminalisation programme which utilises such methods as controlled movement, degrading forced strip searches, and the persistent denial of access to progressive education. This is a premeditated act and is part of the overall effort to break the will of, and depoliticise, Republican Political Prisoners.
The recommendation to address the impact of the current regime in Republican Roe House on the broader prison population, by separating the location, management and resources of the Republican Prisoners from the rest of the prison, will only fundamentally resolve the inherent and significant problems if the core issues are properly addressed. The removal of the widely criticised controlled movement policy, and by extension the conflict-fuelling staffing ratios, would negate any detrimental impact for the rest of the jail population. However, the report has instead offered a get-out clause to the jail; recommending that if the jail wishes to continue with such a practice, which the inspectors have themselves criticised, it should be done in a fashion which will not impact the wider population. The ‘solution’ does not resolve the core issues of conflict and therefore is once again only papering over the cracks. Moreover, if the jail management were to adopt this approach then movement and regime would in fact regress, which only ever exacerbate the potential for conflict within the jail.
The report speaks disparagingly of the number of Judicial Reviews (JRs) taken by Republican Prisoners in Roe House, claiming that they took up much of the Jail management’s time and attention. However, the report fails again to footnote that some of the improvements which it later mentions, including on reducing the levels of unnecessary searching throughout the jail, and the discriminatory nature of the Tier System, were improved and exposed as a result of legal action and the use of judicial reviews by Republican Prisoners. Furthermore, the blame for the time taken to deal with JRs does not rest with Republican Prisoners, as it was the jail management who decided to mount defences against these JRs – out of public funds – despite the strength of the cases against them. This included mounting a defence against a JR regarding jail staff refusing to identify themselves for the purposes of complaint, despite having previously given undertakings to do so at a previous judicial review in 2009. Apart from the diverted time and resources of management, someone took the decision to fight a judicial review that the jail had previously conceded to – at a massive cost to the public purse.
In regards, to the vexed issue of ‘complaints’ the report makes a number of wrongful assertions. The report claims that inspectors believed the number of complaints emanating from Republican Prisoners to have been a co-ordinated effort to overwhelm the complaints system. Republican Prisoners lodge more complaints than the broader prison population because of the acute repressive measures that we face. The report refers to over 250 ‘stage 2’ complaints which simultaneously arrived from Roe House; however, it does not state that these complaints arrived in such volume only because the jail had chosen to respond to ‘stage 1’ in bulk, and in an obstructive and generic manner. The initial responses which Republican Prisoners receive to complaints are rarely within Internal Complaint Process (ICP) timescales; and very rarely responded to specifically or substantively as has been repeatedly recommended by the Prisoner Ombudsman, making escalation to ‘stage 2’ a necessity. This is supported later in the report which describes responses they reviewed as perfunctory and poor. Yet, the HMIP/CJINI team have opted to ignore such matters and base their views on statements and from those in jail management responsible for the mess. It should be noted that Republican Prisoners have been forced to again initiate legal proceedings recently because of the jail management refusing to accept or address serious complaints, which is not only a breach of the jail’s own ICP and Prison Rules.
Whilst the report does mention the conditions of the punishment block, it has failed to address the isolation of Republican Prisoners within it. And whilst the report has lauded the supposed reduction in body-searches, it has failed to question the continued use of forced strip-searching despite extensive criticism of both these matters by international bodies. It must be recorded that addressing the Isolation policy would have required an examination of MI5 influence within the jail, something it seems unwilling, and failed, to do. The report has also failed to address the continued role of ‘security officers’ working within the jail under the direction of the NIO/MI5. This murky relationship between the MI5 and DUP/POA nexus in lobbying for the maintenance of the current regime in Roe House has been totally ignored despite substantial criticism having been made of these matters in previous reports. Indeed this nefarious influence is best described in numerous reports from outside independent bodies such as a highly critical report by the Committee for the Administration of Justice (CAJ) in their document: “The Policing You Don’t See”.
Whilst abdicating responsibility for such matters, the joint HMIP/CJINI report is also complimentary regarding certain developments. It should be recalled that these developments were not brought about by good will or by progressive individuals within jail management. Issues such as the random searches which the report claims have now ended, were only highlighted and then ended after serious and persistent legal action by Republican Prisoners. The searches to which the report refers as having ceased when going to other areas of the jail (such as the punishment block) were only ceased after similar action and imminent Judicial Review by a Republican Prisoner in isolation, Gavin Coyle, who has suffered for close on 1600 days under such unjustified conditions.
In regards to so-called “threats” which the report attributes to Republican Roe House, it seems that Nick Hardwick and Brendan McGuigan have simply accepted the lies and propaganda peddled by the jail administration without question. Republican Prisoners have addressed on countless occasions the falsification of threats by the jail administration which is aimed at impeding progressive change. No one has properly interrogated the so-called evidence presented by the jail management. The jail management have contrived to create tensions so as to justify controlled movement, isolation and forced strip-searches. They have yet to present any evidence of the use of threats; there is no factual basis to this. What is fact though is that two senior governors, Andy Tosh and David Savage, were exposed on 5th November 2015 as having falsified a threat from a Republican Prisoner, which has been captured on CCTV, and has since been reported to the Prison Ombudsman and legal representatives.
In regards to the education and library aspect of the report, Republican Prisoners do not have any access to a library. For over a year access has been denied to even speak to the jail librarians. There are presently three ‘therapeutic’ classes on Roe 4, which consist of Art, Hobbies and haircutting. Irish, English and Creative Writing teachers have all been removed long ago with no responses to Republican Prisoners’ complaints or requests from the jail management as to when they’ll return. The Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI), which was part of the HMIP/CJINI Inspection, and the Prisoner Ombudsman, are both fully aware of these matters.
Finally, this report has only confirmed for the general public much of what Republican Prisoners have been highlighting for some time. However, the HMIP/CJINI Inspection report has failed to adequately address, or make comprehensive and binding recommendations on matters pertaining to Republican Political Prisoners within Maghaberry Jail. The authors of the report have abdicated responsibility for challenging the involvement of the MI5 and DUP/POA nexus inside and outside of the jail, which has been critically highlighted in a number of other reports. Rather than call for and end to controlled movement and the current overly restrictive regime in Roe House, they have instead opted to recommend that if the jail will not heed their recommendations regarding Republican Roe House, then they should continue the mistreatment in such a fashion that the rest of the jail will not be unduly affected.
Republican Political Prisoners would contend that a full and independent inquiry and detailed examination of all the underlying issues, including the role of MI5 in conjunction with the DUP/POA within Maghaberry jail, is required now more than ever. Sadly, given the cover provided to David Ford and Sue McAllister by Brendan McGuigan (CJINI) in particular in media interviews following release of the report, it seems at least half of the Inspection Team has been compromised and no one is going to be held to account. The fact remains, regardless of the HMIP/CJINI having not yet accepted it, that the time of tinkering has long since passed.