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Phil Scraton

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They’d all love me dead… The Investigation, Inquest, and Implications of the Death of Annie Kelly

Based on the death in custody of Annie Kelly in the punishment block of Mourne House women’s unit within Maghaberry high-security prison in the north of Ireland, this article considers the plight of women in prison diagnosed as “personality disordered.” Imprisoned from the age of 15 in the unit, Annie Kelly was admitted to prison on numerous occasions until her death in 2002. Her self-harm and attempts on her own life were “managed” by holding her in a strip cell or in the male prison hospital locked in isolation for 23 hours a day. The article demonstrates how her resistance to treatment was met with ever-increasing force and deprivation and how the Prison Service was negligent in the circumstances preceding her death by hanging. It also considers the inquest jury’s narrative verdict. The jury found the Prison Service culpable through the complacency of its prison officers, medical officers, and managers and through the deficient regimes under which women suffered. It exposes how despite the collective condemnation of the jury, of the Prison Inspectorate and the Human Rights Commission the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland refused to accept the institutional deficiencies laid bare by the inquest. Finally, it places Annie Kelly’s death in the context of critical research into the gender-specific punitive regimes endured by women and girls, especially those debilitated through mental ill-health.

women’s imprisonment, mental ill-health, personality disorder, punishment block, self-harm, suicide, gender-specificity, inquest

Citation: Social Justice Vol. 33, No. 4 (2006): 118-135