22 July 2004 Edition

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Teenage girl harassed at Maghaberry

Families of segregated prisoners at Maghaberry jail expressed anger after a 17-year-old female visitor was humiliated by prison officers last week as she went to visit her father, a remand prisoner.

As she was being searched on entering the prison, a searcher physically lifted the teenager's skirt. When challenged, the searcher said she thought the girl was wearing trousers.

After proceeding to the visiting area, the search dog, which is supposed to be kept at a distance, made physical contact with the girl before sitting down beside her. According to the family, when the girl's aunt complained a male prison warder began singing "Who let the dogs out".

To intensify the family's distress, they were then instructed that the visit would be designated 'closed' because the dog had made physical contact with the young woman. Closed visits have a perspex screen between prisoner and visitors to prevent physical contact.

Families of prisoners have consistently said that the search dog is used in an arbitrary way to harass certain visitors. Spokesperson for the families, Maura McCorry, demanded action to address their concerns.

"This is only one in a long line of unacceptable incidents and families are outraged about it," she said. "The concerns arising from the treatment of prisoners and their families must be fully and properly addressed by the NIO and prison authorities."

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