Young Catholics are far more likely to face prosecution than Protestant youths in the North, a new equality study has revealed.
The Criminal Justice Inspectorate probe also found that more Catholics are remanded in custody while awaiting trial and are “over-represented” in prison generally.
In addition to this, “a statistically significant lower number” of Catholic prisoners were receiving privileges than their Protestant counterparts.
The report lays bare a prison service where “a predominantly Protestant staff is interacting with a majority Roman Catholic prison population” with “evidence... that Roman Catholic prisoners are receiving less favourable treatment”.
It notes that, unlike the PSNI, the prison service did not undergo a “Patten-style change programme” and there has been “very limited” recruitment and hence “little opportunity to change”.
The report concludes that the actual numbers of Catholic and female recruits are “so small that they will not make any significant impact on overall workforce figures for the foreseeable future”.
Michael Maguire, chief inspector of Criminal Justice in the north of Ireland, also recommended an investigation into the high levels of people being held in jail without conviction.
At one point there were more prisoners on remand awaiting trial than convicted prisoners.
His report also highlighted handling of juvenile crime.
It revealed the PSNI did not record community background, but drew from sectarian indicators such as names, addresses and schools.
Catholic youths were more often referred for prosecution, while Protestant youths were more often referred for “diversionary (ie non-prosecutorial) disposals”.
Sinn Féin Policing Board Member Alex Maskey branded the report as a “damning indictment” of the bias inherent in the Criminal Justice system in the North.
“The comments attributed to Police sources that Catholic juveniles broke the law more often than Protestants -- a claim rejected by the Inspectorate -- is reprehensive and are an indication of the work we still need to do to achieve accountable and representative policing.
“It is reprehensible that Catholics should be subjected to any form of discrimination at any point of the process from arrest through consideration of charges by the PPS [Public Prosecution Service], access to bail while awaiting trial or the right to privileges while serving sentences.
“This comes as no surprise to nationalists and only serves to highlight the need to transfer Policing and Justice powers into the control of local politicians as soon as possible. I am seeking an urgent meeting with British Security Minister, Paul Goggins to demand action to redress this situation.”
Speaking to a ‘townhall’ meeting in Craigavon, County Armagh this week, Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said the discrimination was part of the “legacy” of British rule before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
“The reality is that 40 years after the Battle of the Bogside and the pogroms in Belfast, and the efforts of the Civil Rights Movement to achieve fundamental change, the Orange State is no more.
“Of course, the legacy of that period still exists in discrimination, in the inequalities and divisions which persist, and in the scourge of sectarianism.
“Partition remains the great immoral interference with Irish national rights.
“And there remain serious matters to be tackled in aspects of the justice system, not least of which is the role of the PPS.”
Mr Adams said the previous unionist and British establishment had “always understood the key importance of controlling the law and justice and policing.”
The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions had ensured that many of the abuses of the British state never even made it to court. The law did not require the DPP to give reasons for their failure to prosecute in any of these cases.
“The Good Friday Agreement envisaged a wide-ranging review of the criminal justice system which led to the Criminal Justice Review published in March 2000. The Review made many recommendations including the establishment of a new office, the Public Prosecution Service (PPS).
“The report of the Criminal Justice Inspectorate in August 2007 on the PPS identified 40 weaknesses requiring action.
“So, there is a big job of work to be done in respect of the PPS. There needs to be a root and branch reform of the PPS.
“The transfer of policing and justice powers represents a unique opportunity to begin this process and to construct a public prosecution service that is representative of and accountable to the community and free from partisan political control. Sinn Féin is committed to the achieving these ends.”