Hydebank Wood is the only site within the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) to house young people and minors. Young men ages 17 to 21 are placed into custody here, but males as old as 24 may be housed there as well. All female prisoners within the system, including juveniles, are also housed at Hydebank though they are kept separate from the male population.
The mental and psychological impact of women being housed at a male young offenders’ centre has been question by several sources. According to a Queen’s University study on children’s rights and the justice system (read it here), mixed genders in one facility was ‘inappropriate’ and that it was an ‘inadequate environment for girls’ to be housed in the same location as young men and adult women.
The same study also highlighted abuse of practices at Hydebank Wood, including excessive use of restraint as punishment and misuse of rewards to encourage certain behaviour. In particular, the practice of ‘Physical Control in Care’ was given as an example of an overuse of force. While there are guidelines as to when the use of restraint is appropriate, but it was discovered that these were often not followed.
A report filed in 2007 after inspections of Hydebank Wood found that juveniles were ‘routinely strip-searched upon arrival,’ and that healthcare provisions were inadequate, particularly where drug/alcohol withdrawal was concerned. They also stated that discipline was ‘overly putative’ and questioned the ‘excessive use of confinement’ as punishment for violations of prison rules.
Even as recently as 2009/2010, a review of Hydebank Wood by the Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) expressed concern about the how often prisoners were kept alone in confinement as punishment. The review noted that previous annual reports had contained the same observation, and yet the practice seems to have continued.
The IMB also placed emphasis on the role of staff in the conditions at the Hydebank Wood facility. There were remarks made regarding the inconsistency of personal conduct among staff towards prisoners. Some were engaged and caring while others were distant, cynical, and even hostile. Also discussed was the negative impact on the ‘provision of normal regime’ by frequent staff sick leave, and the general need for a change of ‘ethos and culture’.
During the review year of 2009-2010, the IMB found that approximately 25-30 prison officers were absent due to illness every day. Among other issues (such as the Prison Officers’ Association’s ‘withdrawal of goodwill’), this led to a general conclusion that ‘staff needs rather than regime considerations [...] frequently take priority’.
This disruption to the regime at Hydebank Wood has meant that good educational programmes, community work, and even a consistent daily routine have been hard to establish. Facilities like the exercise centre are underutilised and there are consistently long periods of lock-up with no association. Good practices, then, are often hindered by staff’s ability to maintain them.
While the current Justice Department’s interim report on the Northern Ireland Prison Service made few remarks about the conditions of young people, it did say that ‘conditions are poor’ at Hydebank Wood and they ‘[did] not believe that [it] is, or can ever be, an appropriate environment for children.’
What do you think? Should juveniles ever be placed into custody in a prison setting like Hydebank Wood? If not, what do you think alternatives could be – the Juvenile Justice Centre?