The teenager for whom solitary is the norm

Is solitary the norm? /

By Barry McCaffrey and Niamh Murray

‘A’ was just 14 years of age when he was charged with attempted robbery and threats to kill in June 2009.

Because he is still a minor he cannot be identified.

However A’s father has now spoken for the first time to complain that his son is being turned into a “caged animal” inside Hydebank prison having been forced to spend months on end in solitary confinement.

A’s father, who we are also legally unable to identify to protect the identity of his son, warns the decision to place his now 17-year-old son in solitary confinement for extended periods is causing serious psychological damage to an already severely troubled child.


Three months after his initial arrest in 2009 and while he was still awaiting trial A was moved to Hydebank prison after it was judged that he posed a threat to staff and other teenagers at a juvenile detention centre.

At just 15 years of age, he was the youngest child in the north to be detained inside Hydebank.

When he eventually went on trial in January in 2011 the court heard how A’s parents had split up when he was just nine-years-old.

The court was told that A’s mother had supplied him with drugs and alcohol from an early age.

At 11 years of age he was already associating with older males and was engaged in petty crime.

He had already amassed 37 criminal convictions in the 12 months before he was eventually placed behind bars in 2009.

He pleaded guilty to attempted armed robbery, threats to kill and possession of an offensive weapons and was sentenced to three years imprisonment at Hydebank and a further five years probation on release.

Despite being just 16-years-old the court was warned that he was already judged as posing a serious risk to the public.

His father says that since being sent to Maghaberry in December 2009 A has spent the majority of his incarceration in solitary confinement or alternatively on a prison landing on his own.

A’s father freely admits that his son is “no angel” and deserved to be sent to prison for the serious offence which he committed.


However he has accused the prison system of unfairly punishing his son by repeatedly sentencing him to extended periods in solitary confinement.

“He’s a 17 year-old boy now, he’s been in jail since he was 14, he’s had no education, basically solid lock-up,” he said.

“Basically half of his time he will have spent in lock-up and they say they can’t manage him.

“But at the same time they’re not doing anything to help him in any way.

“There’s no education, there’s nothing happening in that jail, apart from lock-up and solitary.”

Expressing fears over the potential psychological affect that repeated lengthy periods in solitary confinement is having on his son, he went on:

“If I treated my dog like that I would get jailed for cruelty to an animal.

“I have no idea how it’s going to affect him when he comes back into the real world, but it hasn’t done him any good.

“He was no angel, I won’t dispute that he got into a lot of bother.

“But it was mainly running about with older people, getting drink and drugs, which got him into the bother, but that’s no excuse.

“He got into the bother; you do the crime, you get the time, I suppose.

“Maybe its different when you’re a man, an adult, you’ve had your education, but my son basically lost out on an education from he was 14.”

Challenging official prison service figures which state that inmates at Hydebank are only ever sentenced to a maximum of 14 days in solitary confinement at any one time, A’s father insists:

“Any time my son goes on the (punishment) block it’s for at least four weeks, maybe three months.

“It seems to be the same for other inmates.

“It’s not a few days on the block; it’s several weeks at least for a minor incident.”


A’s father claims that his son and two other inmates went on hunger strike earlier this year in protest at being held in isolation away from the rest of the mainstream population at Hydebank.

“I tried to speak to people in the jail and stuff but nothing was happening.

“After six, seven weeks of this treatment they went on hunger strike and that lasted for one or two weeks.

“On the second week, I think it was, I eventually got him talked out of it, but he’s still really basically on a wing himself.

“They take him, whenever it suits them, over on to the other wing if they say they have the staff to monitor him.”

Expressing concerns that his son’s case is not an isolated incident, he added: “I feel my son’s case is a highlight from the top of what they really are doing in prisons.

“But I’m sure there are loads and loads more, that this happens to lots of people.”

The Detail informed the prison service of the allegation’s made by A’s father but a spokesman said it was unable to discuss individual cases.

Receive The Detail story alerts by email