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Ford `doesn't know' how many prison officers working

Magilligan Prison, Co Derry where an undetermined number of officer work day and night

CONCERNS over the level of staffing at Magilligan Prison have been referred to the Criminal Justice Inspectorate after the justice minister was unable to say how many officers worked either during the day or at night.

David Ford was unable to respond to an assembly question asking for details of staffing levels at the Co Derry jail, saying the figure "fluctuates" on a daily basis.

"It is not possible to provide an exact figure on the number of staff present at Magilligan Prison," he said.

"Staffing levels are influenced by a number of factors including the regimes available, the shift patterns, annual leave and staff sickness."

However, East Derry assembly member John Dallat, who asked the question, said the response failed to provide reassurance he had been seeking following reports that there "may not be enough the prison officers to deal with a night time emergency".

He accused the minister of trying to "conceal the truth about what is going on in Magilligan Prison during the night".

A Criminal Justice Inspectorate report published in February on the jail found that while the prison has "significant strengths, its performance has slipped since it was last inspected in 2010 and action is needed to prevent a further decline".

Mr Dallat said the lack of clarity from the department "leaves me with no option but to contact the Criminal Justice Inspectorate".

"In (its report) a number of deficiencies were highlighted, including `a degree of complacency about safety within the prison including a culture that was risk averse'.

"I want to see the prison remain in Magilligan where, in the past, there were excellent results in rehabilitating prisoners and I don't want a case made for moving it to Belfast.

"The security and safety of the prison during night time is of paramount importance and for that reason I am extremely disappointed that the minister has decided to act in such a cavalier fashion by refusing to furnish me with any statistics relating to staffing levels at any time of the day or night."

Th prison service declined to comment.

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