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Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission CALLS FOR URGENT ACTION

March 19 2007 at 7:13 PM

Response to Northern Ireland politicians to investigate health facilities in prisons




13 February 2007



The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission believes that the

findings of the inquest into the death of Roseanne Irvine, who died by

suicide in Magheraberry Prison in March 2004, confirm the need for

urgent action by government to improve the conditions of women in


The main finding of the inquest was that the prison system ‘failed

Roseanne’ who had a ‘long history of mental health difficulties’. There

was a ‘severe lack of communication and inadequate recording’ of her

case, a ‘failure to act’ on her risk assessment of self harm and suicide

and a general ‘lack of healthcare and resources for women prisoners’.

Lack of awareness of prison staff, the fact that she did not see a doctor

and the inadequacy of hospital care were other factors which

contributed to her death. The jury stated that she could have been

taken to an outside hospital, prison staff should have been fully

briefed, and she could have been ‘paired’ with another prisoner.

Finally the jury stated that prison is not suitable for holding women

with mental health problems and that prison staff should be trained in

suicide awareness.

At the time of Roseanne Irvine’s death, Dr Linda Moore, (Human

Rights Commission) and Professor Phil Scraton (Queen’s University

Belfast) were carrying out research for the Commission in Mourne

House Women’s Unit at Magheraberry Prison. Both gave evidence at

the inquest.


Professor Scraton stated:

“We witnessed a regime in Mourne House Women’s Unit that had

all but collapsed. The women’s healthcare centre had closed,

there were limited opportunities for work, education or

occupational therapy. Women were regularly locked in their cells

for most of the day. Those, like Roseanne, who self harmed or

were suicidal, were located in strip cells in the punishment block.

Vulnerable women were placed at greater risk and the failures in

the regime were systemic from prison officers through to senior

management. It was, and still is to some extent, a service in


Dr Moore added:

“The research followed concerns from Human Rights

Commissioners who visited the Women’s Unit in the aftermath of

the death of another prisoner, Annie Kelly. We found significant

and enduring breaches of international human rights standards.

Custom and practice seriously compromised the Prison Service’s

duty of care, particularly for vulnerable women. Roseanne’s

death was a tragic consequence of a lack of management that

put many women and girls at risk. It amounted to neglect of her

right to life in which her treatment was both inhumane and


Professor Monica McWilliams, Chief Commissioner of the NIHRC,


“The Human Rights Commission is currently following the

recommendations of our earlier report - The Hurt Inside – which

highlighted these concerns. This report recommended the

provision of a separate women’s facility, which we believe needs

to be urgently addressed by the Northern Ireland Office. A

therapeutic unit for women suffering from mental ill-health is

also required together with a full inquiry into the deaths of three

women in prison, including Roseanne Irvine.

What the research demonstrates is the importance of

investigative powers for the Human Rights Commission to enter

and report on places of detention. These powers are currently

being debated in Parliament and need to strengthened. This

tragedy demonstrates that prison is not an appropriate place of

detention for women with severe mental illness and women


being detained in this way is a serious breach of their human


Further information

For further information and contact details for the above

spokespersons, please contact Peter O’Neill, Head of Information,

Education and Development on 028 9024 3987 (office), 07786 338290


Notes to editors

1. The Commission’s new research into the imprisonment of women at

Hydebank Wood will be published in spring. Copies of the above

mentioned report The Hurt Inside: The Imprisonment of Women and

Girls in Northern Ireland are available from the Northern Ireland

Human Rights Commission or on its website

 Respond to this message   

  1. Prison suicides unavoidable, governor tells inquest - morse on Mar 19, 2007, 7:34 PM
    1. Mental Health (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 ... excludes treating Personality Disorder - morse on Mar 19, 2007, 7:43 PM
      1. The cornerstone of treating such patients is maintaining a limited relationship. - morse on Mar 20, 2007, 11:39 AM
        1. Amitriptyline ...with BPD, increasing suicidal ideation, paranoid thinking, and assaultive - morse on Mar 20, 2007, 11:41 AM

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