12 February 2006

Ulster prison facing closure threat

Sunday Life

Alan Murray
12 February 2006

Security Minister Sean Woodward is considering a report on the economic impact of closing Magilligan Prison.

A report from BDO Stoy Hayward on the impact on businesses in the Limavady area has been passed to the minister by the head of the Prison Service, Robin Masefield.

And while, in the short term, there are plans to build some new units at Magilligan, Mr Masefield confirms in a circular to staff last week that he is considering closing the jail and building a new prison in Ballymena, Antrim, Lisburn, Craigavon, Portadown or Dungannon.

The closure of Magilligan is being planned by the Prison Service despite Mr Masefield's admission that the prison population here is expected to rise by 6pc year-on-year for the next five years, and by 5pc in the following years.

Currently there are 1,353 people locked up here - compared with 1,277 in February last year.

In the short term, the Prison Service is considering building 60 cellblocks at both Magilligan and Maghaberry to cope with the increasing prison population.

But in the longer term, consultations are taking place with the NIO and the Treasury about building a completely new prison away from the North West and shedding staff.

One senior prison service figure admitted that the fate of Magilligan was virtually sealed - and denied that the service was making the move to exploit the value of the land it was sited on.

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