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19 August 2004 Edition

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Prisoners challenge Maghaberry harassment

Repeated searching and strip-searching as a form of harassment is a familiar experience amongst republicans. Last year, following a series of incidents and protests by prisoners in Maghaberry, the British Secretary of State commissioned a review of safety within the jail. The Steele report was published last September and recommended a policy of segregation on request.

Unfortunately, a measure that should have alleviated tension and intimidation within the jail appears to have been implemented in a manner deliberately designed to heighten tension. Remand prisoners in Roe House have been subjected to a punitive regime of petty harassment by the prison authorities, involving repeated searches and strip searches carried out daily.

The use of searches as a form of harassment in the segregated wings of Maghaberry jail is to be challenged legally. Solicitors acting on behalf of a prisoner are taking judicial review proceedings against the Prison Service for "employing what we believe to be a punitive and oppressive regime which applies only to segregated prisoners".

According to the prisoners, on a 'good' day segregated remand prisoners in Maghaberry's Roe House will be searched four times in one day. If the prisoner receives either a family or legal visit, he will be subjected to at least ten searches, one of which is likely to be a strip search and two x-ray tests. When a prisoner visits the gym, dentist or court, the number of searches increases by a further six.

This figure does not take into account repeated random cell searches, which involve another strip search, and wing searches carried out by the riot squad accompanied by guard dogs and also involving more strip searches.

"The fact that our entire area is monitored by camera 24 hours a day and that so many searches serve no security purpose, we can only conclude that the current overzealous search procedures are nothing less than punitive and designed to harass prisoners that have chosen segregation," writes a prisoner.

Sinn Féin's Paul Maskey said the current regime is totally unacceptable. "It appears while the rest of society is determined to move forward, there are elements within the prison regime that are trying to turn back the clock."

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