Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140 - 144)



  140. Can I follow on from Mr Hunter's question about segregation, because in real terms it is not as easy an issue as some people would make it out to be? For instance, to some extent I would judge that there probably is segregation already in, probably, Maghaberry. I can think that the feuding that is going on at the present time there are some prisoners that you could not house together, so there is some form of separation taking place. There must be a line somewhere where it is such an enormous task for the Prison Service to be a policeman and a referee in a block or in a wing between feuding factions of one section of the community, or, indeed, from the two sections of the community. Is there not a sense sometimes where it is easier to separate them and deal with them on separate wings and separate blocks?
  (Mr McAleer) We can sit here and talk about the segregation issue and probably spend an awful long time on it. You are quite right when you say people will always segregate themselves, and living in the community we live in that is true, yes. There are things in the past where there has been a management decision to separate people down different wings. Our view as an Association was that we made an awful lot of mistakes in segregation. That is not to say that there will not be occasions when you have to separate prisoners from other prisoners for individual protection, but I think to go down the road of a segregated policy is a mistake to go down that road. A lot of the problems that we had in the Maze came from the segregation, because it went too far. You started segregating one faction from another faction, then you started separating factions within factions. It is just a road, in our view, down which we should not go.

  141. Is there an issue distinction between separating, because that probably takes place in every prison, sex offenders and so forth would be separated? Is there a distinction between separation and the handing over of control of wings to paramilitary groups, or does one necessarily follow from the other?
  (Mr McAleer) It follows. It follows that if you go down that road that that is what you do, because what you do then is you put people out of one faction in a large number who will out number you then. So the idea is to spread them out. Interestingly enough, in England—you talk about sex offenders—they have a policy of segregating. In Northern Ireland we do not have that policy, we integrate, and we would argue that that works better. It is just a better way of doing it. If you can do it, it is better to do it from a management point of view. If you put all the bad eggs in one basket, you get yourself a bad basket, and you are better to spread it. At the end of the day those types of decisions are taken by other people, not by us. Of course, whatever the Ministers decide to do, we are there to do what we are required to do, but if you are asking for our preference, our preference is not to go down that road, because it is a management nightmare. Having said that, if that is the road down which we go, then we will go down it.

  Mr Robinson: Thank you very much.


  142. One last question. What input does the Association expect to make into the forthcoming review of prisons legislation?
  (Mr McAleer) We expect to make representations. We have been invited to do so and we will be doing that.

  143. Are there any particular changes you will be seeking?
  (Mr McAleer) We are only a new committee. What we need to do is have a sub-committee, which we will be doing at an early stage, but we have nothing specific in mind. We will be looking and making a contribution.

  144. I cannot tell what the precise timetable is for that. Will you have enough time to be able to do that?
  (Mr McAleer) We have enough time to do that.

  Chairman: Do any of my colleagues have any other questions that they would like to ask? I think on behalf of the Committee we would like to congratulate you on the pace at which you took our questions. I would also like to say, for the record, that we did not regard the pace at which we took them in any way due to porousness or inadequacy of the answers you gave. Indeed, the directness of some of the answers you gave could very well be emulated by other witnesses who appear before us, however much they may abbreviate the session, so we are extremely grateful. We much appreciated the fact that you did accede to our timetable, even though it meant coming on at rather short notice. Thank you very much indeed.

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