Prison Officers to walk away with 60 million in north as sectarian legacy continues in prisons

Date:

The sixty million payoff to prison officers in Northern Ireland could be much better spent on addressing the causes of crime such as poverty, social deprivation and prison rehabilitation. Prison officers who served during the Troubles could walk away from their jobs with packages of more than £120,000 plus pension as part of a £60m redundancy programme aimed at ‘modernising’ the service.

Justice minister David Ford hopes about 540 ‘screws’ aged over 50 will leave the 1,747- strong ranks of uniformed staff over the next two years. The news comes after successive reports have pointed to the fact that Maghaberry prison is one of the worst and most expensive in the UK.

In October, Dame Ann Owers a former chief inspector of prisons for England and Wales released a report recommending a major overhaul of the prison system including Patten-style redundancy package and a move away from ‘excessive security and over-staffing. It costs 95,000 a year to keep a prisoner in Northern Ireland, which is much more than prisons in England which can cost as little as 20,000. In Hydebank women’s prison up to 50% of prisoners are fine defaulters including those jailed for non-payment of TV license.

The report also highlights that just 10% of prison staff are Catholic and only 22% female,  leading to Catholic inmates disproportionately facing more disciplinary proceedings including isolation and excessive force. Catholics make up around 55% of all inmates in all three prisons. In Maghaberry, catholic inmates were three times more likely to have been subjected to force and more than twice as likely to be held on 23-hour lock-up. All these finding bears the hallmark of prison service that is institutionally sectarian, where neglect, suffering and suicide are all too common.

The inspectorate also agreed that ‘full body strip searching is intrusive and invades the privacy of all prisoners…and if other less intrusive and more effective electronic methods become available, the should be piloted, and their use considered.’ Despite this ‘independent’ report including a suggestion to use airport style scanners instead of brutal strip searching the prison administration still refuses to agree to implement the August Agreement of last year. In the meantime republican prisoners are still engaging in protests including ‘dirty protest’ in their struggle for better conditions.

When workers are being flung onto the dole cheque in their thousands without a thank,s never mind a redundancy package, the Northern Ireland Prison Officers Association, a repressive function of the state, gets a golden handshake for brutalising and punishing prisoners over the last 30 years. Where is the pay-out for all those who have suffered and often died at the hands of screws over the years?

This of course is the new era, a change in the uniform and badge- a job well done for the lads and the rest of us are expected to turn the other cheek. For anarchists the question is not about a change in individuals nor a few token reforms but a complete transformation to a society which offers freedom and equality to all that has no need to build cages of repression and structural violence to keep us in line.

Sean Matthews

In 2007, Belfast Anarchist Black Cross organised a successful public meeting as part of the West Belfast Feile on 'Death Behind Bars' focusing on prison neglect and abuse. Speakers include ex-prisoners, families of people died in custody and Phil Scratton professor of Crimininology at Queens. Linda Moore from the Human Rights Commission also addressed the meeting.  The audio recording of the meeting can be downloaded from this link- http://www.indymedia.ie/article/89189?search_text=Belfast+anarchist+black+cross

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