Prison defends its pen pal stance

MAGILLIGAN Prison has defended its decision to pass on the details of a convicted armed robber for use on a controversial convict pen pal internet site.

The jail now stands as the only prison in Northern Ireland to have a penpal seeking inmate listed on Prisoner-World.com, an internet site which includes the profiles of hundreds of criminals, including murderers and sex offenders incarcerated across the world. The listed Magilligan internee was jailed for eight years in 2007 for a spate of knife wielding robbery offences in County Antrim. His details, including cell number and H block area, are currently posted live on the global site. It is believed its makers approached the jail, and others in the province, with a request for convicts to join. The details of those that expressed an interest were then uploaded. .

Confirming that the criminal's details were passed on via Magilligan HMP, a spokesman for the Northern Ireland Prison Service said it did not "discourage" inmates from seeking or writing letters to pen partners.

The NIPS spokesman stated: "Prisoners corresponding with penpals is common practice throughout the world and something that we do not discourage. It gives inmates an opportunity to write about prison life and is particularly useful for those who do not have a wide circle of friends or family to confide in.

The spokesman added that the practice could be considered "therapeutic" and "educational" for inmates and may also "improve a person's literacy skills" which would in turn help prisoners "express their thoughts and feelings more clearly".

Councillor Leslie Cubitt, who has spoken out on prison issues before, says he felt it was wrong of the prison service to pass on prisoner details to a realm so easily accessible.

"I wonder how therapeutic this would be for this man's victims to see his name posted on a global website trying to make friends with people? It's just not right and Magilligan Prison should not have agreed to passing on his details."

Councillor Cubitt continued: "No other jail here has done it, so I don't see why Magilligan should have. It's a disgrace."

The internet site, which has been viewed almost 4,000 times, says it is: "Designed as a meeting point for both male and female inmates...and those who wish to have such a person as a pen pal." The Sentinel also found evidence of number of international prisoner profiles which expressed preferences for sordid sexual activity.

The online site also states: "The inmates you see on this site will be behind bars for the worst violent crimes to those crimes which involve no violence. You must decide just how much of your life you wish to share with the inmate."

The Prison spokesman also confirmed to that the option of having personal details added to the website, was open to every category of prisoner including those jailed for sex offences.