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Prisons: Standards

Volume 463: debated on Thursday 19 July 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps will be taken to improve prison accommodation in Northern Ireland following the recent report from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. (149417)

The recent Human Rights Commission report “The Prison Within—The imprisonment of women at Hydebank Wood 2004-06” was released on 5 July 2007. The research for this report was carried out some eighteen months ago since which time there has been significant progress in taking forward facilities and services for female prisoners.

Female prisoners were relocated during 2006 while their original accommodation was refurbished and in-cell sanitation provided. They have since re-occupied the fully refurbished modern accommodation in Ash House which is now among the best in the prison estate. This unit includes a wing for long-term and enhanced prisoners and a dedicated exercise yard. Plans are underway to extend the health care centre to provide a dedicated facility for females and to build a new female reception area including a dedicated video link and drug testing unit which should be available by the end of this year.

The current facility has an increased capacity of 69 cells complete with in-cell sanitation and includes specialist safer cells, listener cells, mother and baby units and an enhanced regime unit. There are no immediate plans to provide additional capacity within the current unit as this meets the Service's on-going needs, with 48 cells occupied as of 16 July 2007. In the longer term, NIPS is working towards the provision of more appropriate accommodation for female prisoners including a more discrete, self contained women's facility on the Hydebank Wood site, as recommended within the Human Rights Commission report. This provision, of course, is subject to the availability of funding.