Northern Ireland

Magilligan fathers captivated by new prison play park

A slide in the new play park
Image caption All the equipment at this unusual play park site is brand new

Pirate and Princess Cove looks like any new play park.

There is a father pushing his son on the swings and a mother helping a toddler on the slide.

But the fathers who are here with their children will not get to go home after playtime.

This park is in Magilligan Prison and the fathers are inmates.

'Butterflies'

This used to be a derelict area, but for family visits, prisoners worked together to design and build a place that looks less like a prison.

Image caption Visitors might notice that the fence is a little higher than at other play parks

That is really important for inmates like Emmanuel, who looks forward to seeing his partner and kids.

"I get showered, get ready early, clothes ironed, because I know I'm getting down to here for family time.

"You get butterflies in your stomach even the day before. It's the one thing you look forward to."

Image caption The park allows children to have fun with their parents during prison visits

Pirate and Princess Cove opened in July and Emmanuel said it has already made a big difference to his family.

"From the last three visits, my wee one seems to be getting a lot closer to me," he said.

"She was born when I was in jail and the only way I've seen her is through visits.

"It gives you the experience to put your child on the swing or down the slide and gives you more of a bond, a relationship with them."

'Grim'

Magilligan is home to about 500 offenders, their sentences ranging from short-term to life.

From painting the brightly-coloured fence, to building the climbing frame, all the work here was done by inmates.

Lesley Bird, who works at Magilligan, oversaw the project and said it is a big change from what was there before.

Image caption This is how the covered walkway in front of the park looked before the transformation

"You could tell it was inside a prison, it was grim and unwelcoming. For children who were coming in, it was quite scary," she said.

"Building this gives the guys who made it a sense of achievement.

"Especially for men who are serving a long sentence, the only photographs they have are within a visit hall.

"I just wanted to make an area that they could get their photos taken and spend time with their dad."

Image caption A view of the park site before prisoners helped to transform it into a play area

Family visits to Pirate and Princess Cove are a privilege at Magilligan.

A Ministry of Justice report in 2017 found that keeping prisoners connected to their families meant they were less likely to reoffend.

It also said their children were less likely to become involved in the criminal justice system.

Image caption Magilligan prison outside Limavady is a medium to low security jail

Prison governor Richard Taylor is hopeful that visits to the cove could help prevent inmates returning to Magilligan.

"People who come into prison and maintain and keep close family ties, it reduces the level of reoffending," he said.

"This is a reward for them, but more importantly, it's a reward for the children."

Being able to push his little one on the swing takes William's mind off being in prison.

"It makes your time a lot easier," he said.

"It takes a lot of pressure off you and it doesn't leave you feeling so depressed."

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