chapter  9
24 Pages

Self harm and suicide in a women’s prison

In late 2003 the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) agreed to a request by the Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) to allow independent research into the Mourne House Women’s Unit at Maghaberry Prison, specifically to consider the regime’s compliance with Article 2 (right to life) and Article 3 (right to be held in conditions that do not amount to inhuman and degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The research followed a critical report by the Prisons Inspectorate on its 2002 inspection, the death of 19-year-old Annie Kelly, found hanging in a punishment cell in Mourne House in September 2002, and a subsequent visit to the Unit by NIHRC commissioners. With Linda Moore, Senior Investigations Worker at NIHRC, I was commissioned to carry out in-depth qualitative research within Mourne House. The research took place at the prison and in the community between February and April 2004, with subsequent visits in May. We uncovered a regime that had all but collapsed. Our findings and recommendations were published as The Hurt Inside: The Imprisonment of Women and Girls in Northern Ireland (Scraton and Moore 2005). While we were conducting the research, Roseanne Irvine took her

own life in highly controversial and disputed circumstances. Subsequently we gave evidence at the inquests of Annie Kelly (November 2005) and Roseanne Irvine (February 2007). It was clear that our evidence had a significant impact on the jury’s narrative verdicts and the decision of the Coroner to refer the cases and our report to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. In March 2007 the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee announced its intention to conduct an inquiry into Northern Ireland’s prisons, with a particular emphasis on health. I also gave oral evidence to a judicial review concerning the holding of a child in isolation in punishment block strip conditions. As a direct consequence of that evidence, the judge ordered her immediate removal from the block. Views presented in this chapter are mine and are not attributable to the NIHRC.