Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

Banned in England, condemned by the High Court, yet ‘slopping out’ continues

Prisoners at an Ulster jail are still being forced to “slop out”, three years after a High Court judge ruled that the practice was “humiliating and distasteful”.

Inmates in more than 280 jail cells at Magilligan Prison — almost two thirds of the accommodation — still do not have in-cell toilets or washing facilities, the Belfast Telegraph has learned.

During lock-down inmates can use a button to alert prison staff if they need to access bathroom facilities, but when this is not possible they are forced to use a chamber pot provided in cells.

The chamber pot is then emptied in a large basin when the cell is reopened. This practice of “slopping out” was banned in English jails in 1996.

A new residential unit was opened at Magilligan Prison last month, containing separate toilet facilities in each cell as part of a multi-million pound expansion and development programme to tackle overcrowding.

Prisons’ Minister Paul Goggins has also announced plans for a new prison to be built on the Magilligan site to replace the existing prison, which is the oldest prison in the estate.

However, this is in the early planning stages and it has been almost three years since the High Court ordered a regime change after a prisoner won a judicial review of the slopping out practice.

Belfast burglar Justin John Martin said he was kept in “distressing and humiliating conditions” in Magilligan Prison, with only a chamber pot for a toilet and nowhere to wash his hands.

In January 2006, Mr Justice Girvan agreed and said the practice was a breach of human rights and every effort should be made to ensure the regimes of the institutions are design managed “to ensure that the conditions of the life of prisoners are compatible with human dignity and acceptable standards in the community”.

At the time the Prison Service was also forced to apologise for misleading parliament into believing that inmates were no longer using chamber pots in Magilligan Prison.

Parliament was told by former Prisons’ Minister Ian Pearson that inmates no longer slopped out after he was wrongly briefed by prison officers.

Information obtained by the Belfast Telegraph under the Freedom of Information Act shows that a total of 288 cells in Magilligan still do not have in-cell toilets. The prison’s current capacity is 452 in single cell accommodation.

A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Prison Service said that the cells — which are in the three H-Blocks at the prison built in the mid-1970s — operate an electronic unlock facility, so a prisoner can access bathroom facilities by pressing a button to alert staff that he wishes to leave his cell during times of lock-down and his cell door is then opened automatically by an officer.

He added: “A chamber pot and toiletries are also provided to prisoners in these cells, but they will only be required to use these in the event of them choosing not to avail of the electronic unlock facility. There are other accommodation facilities at the prison, including dormitory facilities and a low supervision unit, where prisoners have free access to bathroom facilities.”

All but three cells in Maghaberry Prison and Hydebank Wood have in-cell sanitation. The cells without toilet facilities were specifically designed to temporarily house violent or refractory prisoners if it is believed they will wreck cell furniture or sanitary facilities for the purpose of making a weapon.

The Prison Service said these cells are used infrequently.

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