Statewatch article: RefNo# 26242
Northern Ireland: The death of Annie Kelly
Statewatch Bulletin; vol 14 no 6 November-December 2004
Phil Scraton analyses an unprecedented indictment of the endemic failures within the N Ireland Prison Service

The inquest into the death in custody of 19 year old Annie Kelly concluded on 23 November 2004. Detailed and thorough, the jury’s narrative verdict was unprecedented in its indictment of the endemic failures prevalent within Northern Ireland’s Prison Service. The jury found the ‘main contributor’ to her death by hanging to be a ‘lack of communication and training at all levels’. ‘There was’ concluded the jury, ‘no understanding or clear view of any one person’s role in the management and understanding of Annie’. They identified a ‘major deficiency in communication between Managers, Doctors and the dedicated team’ responsible for Annie’s health, welfare and safe custody. There were ‘no set policies to adhere to’, specifically a lack of appropriate management and staff training. And there was ‘no consistency in her treatment and regime from one Governor to the next’.

Given Annie’s personal and custodial history these are remarkable conclusions drawn by an attentive jury who heard a mass of evidence presented to the Belfast Coroner’s Court. Annie, the tenth in a family of 12 children, first came into conflict with the law when she was 13. Her family, from the Strabane area, saw a significant behaviour change following the tragic death of her brother. A year later she received her first conviction. After being held in St Louis’ Training School she was then in Rathgael. In July 1997, following the issuing of a Certificate of Unruliness in Rathgael, Annie was imprisoned in the Mourne House Women’s Unit. Mourne House was a high security women’s facility managed and operated within the remit of the much larger Maghaberry male prison. Holding a 15 year old child in an adult prison breached international standards, not least the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Even for adult women the Mourne House conditions were unsuitable. The discrete health care facility had closed. Women and girls were treated and accommodated in the male prison hospital. Often transported in prison vans with male prisoners, they suffered appalling verbal abuse. Access to education classes was inconsistent and workshops were permanently closed. The standard regime confined women and girls were locked in their cells for a minimum of 17 hours each day. Following redeployment of prison officers from the Maze, 80% of duty staff were male. It was not unusual for night guard duty to be staffed exclusively by male officers. A deteriorating regime reflected managerial complacency and staff custom and practice that fell far short of providing constructive or creative programmes for women and girls with complex needs. Managers and staff had no training in basic health care for those identified as distressed, disturbed or behaviour disordered. Medical care plans were filed away and ignored.

In May 2002, just months before Annie died, the Prisons Inspectorate visited Mourne House. Its findings exposed serious deficiencies in policy, regime and conditions. There was ‘no recognition of the different needs’ of women, inappropriately high staffing levels and an unhealthy male-female staff ratio, an extraordinary and unnecessary emphasis on security, lengthy periods of lock-up, insufficient activities, poor record-keeping, shared transport with male prisoners, unexplained strip-searches, insufficient information and support for women on reception and no induction programme. The inspectors were highly critical of the treatment of suicidal and self harming women, particularly the use of the male prison hospital and the punishment and segregation unit. They stressed that the Prison Service should establish a policy and strategic plan for accommodating women in a discrete and self-contained environment supported by a comprehensive staff training programme. Holding children ‘assumed to be a significant management problem’ in adult prisons was ‘specia

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