Women's prison accommodation 'totally unsatisfactory'
Education and training provision for prisoners at Hydebank Young Offenders Centre near Belfast are "just awful", members of the Justice Committee were told, on 25 June 2014.
Brendan McGuigan, an independent member of the Prison Review Oversight Group, said 34% of young people arriving at Hydebank had reading ages "comparable to nine-year-olds".
"These are people who absented themselves from mainstream education when they were 11 and 12 years of age," he said.
In reply to a question from Rosaleen McCorley of Sinn Fein, Patricia Gordon of the oversight group said accommodation for women prisoners was "totally unsatisfactory".
"We would want to make sure that the plans for the new facility are not aspirational but that they are achieved," she said.
Mr McGuigan called for the development of social enterprises in prisons.
"We've moved on from sewing mailbags," he said, emphasising the need to "get prisoners out of their cells" and involve them in rehabilitation.
Mr McGuigan was also concerned about overcrowding.
"Maghaberry Prison is overcrowded and the numbers are increasing," he said, adding that Magilligan Prison was also reaching capacity.
There were "very many disturbed prisoners" who needed help to get through the day, he said, and that this was increasing the pressures on staff.
"I don't underestimate the challenge that stands ahead for the prison service," Mr McGuigan said.
The committee was also briefed by Department of Justice officials on civil legal aid and fine defaulting.