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Criminologists Challenge Ford Over Marian Price

June 5, 2012

Two of the North’s leading criminologists have written to Justice Minister David Ford calling for the release of Marian Price on humanitarian grounds. Professor Phil Scraton of Queen’s and Dr. Linda Moore of the University of Ulster are the authors of a number of reports on prison conditions in the North, including the shocking report three years ago on the incidence of suicide in Maghaberry. Their reports constitute the main body of official research on prison conditions here.

The pair visited Ms. Price at Hydebank last month and have spoken with the Price family and with the women’s governor of the prison. In their letter to Ford they say that:

Marian Price has been imprisoned…without trial in circumstances which may amount to administrative internment and which we believe to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms(ECHR) Article 5 guaranteeing the right to liberty and security of the person…We are profoundly concerned about the conditions and regime under which she is imprisoned in Hydebank Wood and their impact on her deteriorating health and well-being.

In relation to women’s imprisonment in North generally, they refer to:

the inappropriate placement of the women’s unit within a male young offender centre (and) the imposition of less-than-equal treatment on women in prison in NI; restricted movement for women within the site; poor industrial relations; lengthy lock-downs; distant and sometimes hostile staff attitudes to prisoners; limited opportunities for education, training and other activities for women; inadequate healthcare facilities; over-use of strip-searching and isolation.

Turning to the Price case specifically, they say that:

(her) particular situation raises further concerns given that she is detained in isolation, in recognition of her status as a separated prisoner…We consider that her health and well-being are threatened significantly by the conditions under which she is held. We understand that the Healthcare Unit cell to which she was assigned on arrival had mould on its walls/ ceiling, and that she lived-in the cell during the time when it was being cleaned. There is a tannoy near Marian’s cell causing considerable distress and disruption through constant announcements of no relevance to her. We experienced the constant use of the tannoy throughout our visit. It is both loud and oppressive…

Most of her time is spent in isolation, thus threatening her mental and emotional health. In 2011 the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez 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….

Further, there are times when Marian is observed exclusively by male staff. For these reasons, and given the concerns expressed locally and internationally regarding Marian Price’s continued detention and declining health, we urge you release her on humanitarian grounds. At the very least she should be in a hospital in the community, rather than in Hydebank Wood.

This plea from the two criminologists with the most extensive experience of the North’s prison system is confirmation that calls for Ms. Price’s release come from a far wider range of interests that supporters of her politics or from political activists generally.

The next few weeks will see the extension of the campaign to Britain and the US, organised through the Prisons Crisis Group. Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six and Bernadette McAliskey will join a representative of the local Muslim community at a rally in Glasgow. Former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Moazzam Begg will focus on Marian’s case at a meeting in London on the theme, “From Belmarsh to Belfast – Internment Once Again”, drawing attention to the simultaneous imprisonment without trial of Muslims dubbed threats to national security but against whom, as with Marian Price and Martin Corey, no evidence has been presented.


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