Magilligan prison — Northern Ireland’s second largest — is set to close its doors under Government plans for a new facility closer to Belfast.
The jail, near Limavady, will be decommissioned from 2018 under a 10-year programme of reform, thought to be costing in the region of £240m.
Justice Minister David Ford said the proposals would see the establishment of a modern prison estate which is fit for purpose and capable of meeting the needs of prisoners and staff.
Magilligan — which opened its gates 40 years ago — currently holds more than 500 low to medium-risk male prisoners, with six years or less to serve. Most of the inmates are held in three H-blocks, which inspectors are understood to have described as unfit for purpose.
It was built on the site of a former Army base and still has a number of Second World War huts which are used as workshops.
The prison is 71 miles from Belfast, making it difficult for some relatives of inmates to visit.
In a statement issued by the Department of Justice last night, Mr Ford said the proposals would see a new medium security prison developed in a central location.
The strategy proposes that a new 240-cell accommodation block be built at Maghaberry, which will be followed with longer-term plans to zone the prison based on security requirements.
Other plans include a new, shared facility to address the needs of female prisoners and an investment package for Hydebank, which houses young offenders.
Mr Ford said: “The strategy will play a major role in NIPS's (Northern Ireland Prison Service’s) overall objective of improving public safety by reducing the risk of reoffending through the management and rehabilitation of offenders in custody.”
Magilligan’s closure will be a blow for surrounding towns such as Limavady.
Around 400 people currently work at the prison and most live within a 20-mile radius.
It is understood officers will be offered the opportunity to relocate to the new site.
Lagan Valley DUP MLA and justice committee chairman Paul Givan said his party would oppose the prison’s closure.
He said: “David Ford has failed to convince the community that greater investment in prisoners is good for society. I think the public expect people when they go prison to be punished for their crime and for it to be a deterrent.”