The Republican Prisoners’ Action Group have said they reject the “minimal nature” of recent proposals on Maghaberry prison policy by the Six County Prisons’ Minister, Shaun Woodward.

Woodward said republican and unionist prisoners would be held under a less restrictive regime at Maghaberry prison, near Derry.

The proposals seek to reward those ‘who exhibit good behaviour’ and accept voluntary drug testing.

Woodward said prison reforms would include a reduction of “rub-down” searches, additional education facilities and an extension of prisoner visiting rights.

Local councillors from political parties with no representation at Westminster, European Parliament or Assembly member level will also have new visiting privileges.

These follow a recent internal review of the existing prisoners’ ‘Compact’ and the segregated regime operating in Maghaberry Gaol.

So-called “ordinary criminals” are held separately in another wing at Maghaberry and under a different regime. The review took into consideration the views of prisoner groups, their political representatives and prisoners themselves.

The segregated regime was introduced in 2004 on the recommendations of the Steele Report, commissioned by the then British Direct Ruler Paul Murphy, in response to rooftop protests by Maghaberry prisoners.

The Republican Prisoners’ Action Group pointed out that no Republican prisoner has ever been found to be in possession of drugs, adding that the proposed changes to the current policy on controlled movement of prisoners were “negligible” and that excessive lockdowns were set to continue.

Under the proposals, prisoners may be locked up for at least 22.5 hours, and on a Sunday, face lock-up for 26.5 hours.

“Segregated prisoners are forced to endure a much more restrictive regime than those who fall under the terms of the integrated regime - despite the fact that segregation was introduced to safeguard prisoners against attack.”

In October 1999 a Republican POW was scalded by unionist paramilitary inmates whilst being held in integrated conditions.

“Furthermore this carrot and stick approach clearly seeks to reward prisoners who are prepared to accept criminalisation as demanded under the terms of the 1998 Stormont Agreement,” the statement said.

“Whilst proposing a slight reduction in the frequency of rub down searches, there are no plans to cease degrading strip-searches of inmates. The right of a prisoner to be present during cell searches is also to be denied, rendering the procedure open to abuse by the screws.

“The recommendation that local councillors representing political organisations be allowed occasional visits penalises Republican prisoners and their political representatives as they are prevented from contesting council seats due to the political test oath introduced in May, 1989.

“It is clear that the inhumane conditions outlined by Msgr Faul - in response to a submission from the RPAG - are set to continue in Maghaberry. We call on everyone to support the demands of Republican POWs in Maghaberry, including their rights to education, adequate medical treatment, free association, open family visits and an end to humiliating strip-searching.”

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© 2006 Irish Republican News