Magilligan prison in Co Londonderry is to be retained and redeveloped as part of a £200 million-plus plan to improve Northern Ireland's prisons estate, the Justice Minister has confirmed.
David Ford ended the uncertainty hanging over the future of the north west site by announcing that it will not only remain open but its capacity is also set to increase.
The redevelopment will see a new accommodation block replace the existing H-blocks and the construction of a modern skills and training centre and pre-release independent living units.
The news was welcomed by East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell.
“A great deal of money has already been spent on upgrading Magilligan and the price tag on a completely new facility was in the region of £250m.
“It simply was not a realistic option and today’s announcement is a final recognition of that fact,” he said.
Fears that Magilligan was set to be axed had prompted a campaign of opposition, with the Prison Officers Association (POA) at the forefront of the lobbying efforts.
Building work will be undertaken on a phased basis, with full completion planned for 2020.
The project will take the capacity at Magilligan to about 800. There are currently around 535 prisoners on site. Mr Ford told the Assembly that his decision was based on what was best for the people of Northern Ireland in terms of enhancing public safety through reducing offending.
“A number of factors, including the responses to the consultation and engagement with the local councils, have helped shape my thinking and I now consider that there is a case for the retention of Magilligan,” he said.
“However, much of Magilligan is no longer fit for purpose and has outlived its useful economic life.
“To that end, my officials have engaged with a number of professional service providers to consider the options for a replacement prison on the existing Magilligan site.
“They are aimed at delivering a range of fit-for-purpose, flexible accommodation which promotes staff and prisoner safety; encourages access to education and activities; and encourages and supports rehabilitation.
“A number of high-level design concepts are being considered.”
“The development of the prison estate is an opportunity for us to create an environment which will promote change, reduce risk and enhance public safety, while providing accommodation which provides value for money and is fit for purpose. While much of the development will take place outside of the current budget period, the proposals which I am putting forward today are an important marker in the future direction of travel of the Prison Service.”
Justice Minister David Ford