17 March 2006

Row Erupts Over Magilligan Prison Plan

Derry Journal

Friday 17th March 2006

A ROW has erupted over plans to build a new £3.75m cell block at Magilligan Prison - despite the fact that the jail could be closing. The threat of closure has been hanging over the prison since last year when it was revealed that the head of the prison service, Robin Masefield, confirmed in a circular to staff that he was considering closing Magilligan and building a new prison in a different location.
However, the Northern Ireland Prison Service has also revealed that prison numbers at Magilligan and Maghaberry have soared by 70% since 2000 and show no sign of slowing down. To compensate for this, plans have already begun to construct two 60-cell accommodation blocks at the two prisons. The new blocks at the two jails are scheduled for completion in November 2007 at an estimated total cost of between £6.5m and £7.5m. Last night, SDLP Assembly member John Dallat accused the Prison Service of "throwing good money after bad". He said: "Lots of money has already been spent shoring up what is already there. The public has a misconception of the facilities at a modern prison and in reality this structure is not suitable to meet the needs of a modern society." However, DUP MP, Gregory Campbell, who is fighting a proposal to relocate the prison, said plans to build new cells at Magilligan were welcome. "This is not the best option. The best is a minimum spend but I welcome any new building taking place at Magilligan because relocating to a greenfield site in County Antrim would be an excessive cost," he said. The extra accommodation is designed to meet anticipated growth in the adult male population over the next two to four years. With extra capacity required to address these needs, the Prison Service said it hopes that the new units can also be used to provide temporary accommodation to allow for the refurbishment of existing accommodation. A spokesman said: "A team was set up to consider the most efficient structures to deal with the requirement for more accommodation and it is proposed to provide accommodation based on the faster-build format currently being used in England and Wales and generally referred to as RTUs (Ready to Use)."

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