Belfast Telegraph

Blades, booze, drugs and DVD players ...shocking haul uncovered in Northern Ireland jails

By Adrian Rutherford

Security at Northern Ireland’s prisons has been questioned after it emerged that over 3,500 illicit items were seized from inmates during the past 12 months.

Blades, alcohol, drugs and even improvised gym equipment were among the shocking haul found in jails.

And the body which represents prison workers warned that the true figure may be much higher as many items go undetected.

The Prison Officers’ Association said it exposed the “stupidity” of moves to cut staffing levels in Ulster’s jails.

It will raise fresh doubts over security, coming days after reports that traces of Semtex had been found at Maghaberry Prison.

In the 12 months to March 2012, some 3,567 contraband items were found in Maghaberry, Magilligan and Hydebank Wood prisons.

The figures were released by Justice Minister David Ford in response to an Assembly question from SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly.

Not all the items seized are necessarily banned from prisons.

In some cases, inmates exceeded their allowance of items such as bedding and food, with the extra items confiscated by officers.

However, among the haul were 238 blades and knives, 62 mobile phones and 42 seizures of alcohol.

Other discoveries included homemade tools, electrical wires and batteries, screwdrivers and game consoles.

Digital TV boxes, televisions, DVD players and IT equipment were also found. A further 292 drug seizures were made.

Finlay Spratt from the Prison Officers’ Association said the haul was very concerning, and voiced fears of an escalation caused by reduced staffing.

“The situation is only going to get worse because staffing levels will be cut,” he said.

“Some people will shout about too many staff and more freedom for prisoners, but can you imagine what it will be like in that case?”

Mr Spratt also warned that many more items go undiscovered in jails.

“This is only the stuff which has been found — what about the stuff which isn’t spotted?” he added.

“Prisons are a dangerous place. Inmates are always trying to find ways to beat the system, and the only safeguard against this is proper staffing levels.”

Earlier this month it was reported that a prison search team at Maghaberry had found 31 fresh traces of Semtex in an area where dozens of republicans are housed. A further search last Monday found another 16 traces of the plastic explosive.

Ms Kelly, who obtained details of the prison contraband, said she was shocked but not surprised.

“You often hear anecdotal evidence and stories from prisons about what is going on and what is available, but nonetheless it is shocking to see it in such stark figures,” she said.

“It is especially concerning given that prisons are supposed to be a high-security environment.

“Such a large haul of contraband items is amazing by anyone’s standards.”

A spokesman for the prison service said it has “robust and pro-active procedures” in place to locate and remove unauthorised items from prisoners.

“In some cases this includes removing items of contraband which should not be in a prison environment,” he added.

“In the vast majority of cases, it involves removing items from prisoners which are in excess of their entitlements under the progressive regimes and earned privileges scheme.”

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