Magilligan Prison to close in six years time
- 23 April 2012
- From the section Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland's second largest prison at Magilligan near Londonderry is to be closed.
The prison service plans to replace it with a new medium security jail at a location closer to Belfast in six years time.
It is part of a 10-year programme of reform that would cost about £240m.
Magilligan currently holds more than 500 low to medium risk male prisoners, with six years or less to serve.
It first opened its gates to prisoners 40 years ago.
Built on the site of a former army base, a number of Second World War Nissen huts are still used as workshops.
The majority of its prisoners are now held in three H-blocks, which inspectors have described as unfit for purpose.
The standard of accommodation is not the only problem.
The prison service has said the jail is in the wrong location.
It is 71 miles from Belfast, which means a long journey for visiting family members and the majority of the inmates are from the greater Belfast area.
A prison service document obtained by the BBC states that Magilligan has "outlived its useful economic life" and that a new medium security establishment is needed.
Five years ago the former security minister, Paul Goggins, said a new jail would be built on the site of Magilligan, but that plan had now changed.
The prison service has said its preferred option is to build on land beside the high-security prison at Maghaberry near Lisburn.
It is estimated that the cost could be about £140m.
There are also other plans for Maghaberry.
Work is due to start shortly on a new block with accommodation for 240 prisoners.
The prison service also plans to re-develop Maghaberry into three mini-prisons dealing with different categories of offenders.
The plans are part of a 10-year programme of reforms planned by justice minister David Ford.
Lagan Valley MLA and justice committee chairman Paul Givan of the DUP said his party would oppose Magilligan's closure.
"I think the public will be asking why almost £250m should be spent on improving the environment for prisoners at a time when we need money invested in our schools, hospitals and roads," he said.
"David Ford has failed to convince the community that greater investment in prisoners is good for society.
"Magilligan had been approved under Paul Goggins - this document doesn't demonstrate to me a rationale as to why it should be moved other than its inconvenient for prisoners."
The prison service also wants to develop Hydebank into a secure college for 18 to 22-year-old prisoners to improve their educational standards, and chances of finding work when released.
But there are no plans at this stage for a new purpose built facility for women prisioners - which has been recommended in a number of inspection reports.
Closing Magilligan could have serious economic consequences for nearby towns like Limavady.
More than 400 people currently work at the jail, and most live within a 20-mile radius.
The plans for the future of Notrthern Ireland's prisons will be discussed by the justice committee at Stormont on Thursday, and then put out to public consultation for at least 12 weeks.