Northern Ireland news

Maghaberry prison 'not fit for purpose' MLA's told

 A drugs sniffer dog and handler make a random search of a remand house at Maghaberry Prison. MLAs have heard that the jail is 'not fit for purpose'

NORTHERN Ireland's main high-security prison is "not fit for purpose", Assembly members have been told.

Sinn Fein MLA Meave McLaughlin said concerns were mounting about Maghaberry Prison, which houses some of the region's most dangerous criminals.

"There are increasing growing concerns that Maghaberry is not fit for purpose," she said.

Rejecting the claims during Question Time, Justice Minister David Ford said the appointment of a new governor and 35% reduction in staff sickness levels had addressed some of the major issues identified at the jail.

Mr Ford said: "I don't accept that Maghaberry is not fit for purpose.

"I do accept that it appears likely that the Criminal Justice Inspection report - a snapshot report from an unannounced inspection sometime ago - is likely to show that there were significant concerns at the time."

As well as life sentence prisoners, rapists and armed robbers, Maghaberry includes segregated wings for both dissident republican and loyalist paramilitary inmates.

Problem with drugs and overcrowding have been well-documented.

The minister described Maghaberry as the "most complicated" prison in Northern Ireland and Britain, but said the appointment of Phil Wragg, a former governor of HMP Belmarsh, has had a positive impact.

Mr Ford added: "Many members will be aware of significant work which has been done since that inspection to enhance the service which is provided at Maghaberry.

"The fact that Phil Wragg, currently acting as governor, has previously governed Belmarsh, one of the other most complex prisons in the UK, though not as complex as Maghaberry is, I think, an indication of the understanding he has of those issues and I think there is good work already being done."

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