Prisoners back at Belfast's Crumlin Road Gaol
Prisoners are to return to Belfast's Crumlin Road Gaol for the first time in almost 20 years.
The Victorian prison is now a popular tourist facility, but a little known wing, still owned by the Northern Ireland Prison Service, has been put back into use.
The Prison Service announced yesterday that a section it still owns, and had been keeping in cold storage, will be used to help long-serving prisoners in their transition back to normal life.
Burren House – a collection of homes where prison officers used to live – will now serve as a working out unit for prisoners from Maghaberry Prison who are approaching the end of long-term sentences.
It will house up to 22 prisoners and be managed as a satellite of Maghaberry.
They will be taking part in a programme consisting of three phases, in which they will work out, but return to the unit at night.
As prisoners progress through the phases they may be allowed to live in the unit part-time and then full-time at an approved address.
A Prison Service spokesman said all prisoners in the unit will be subject to selection criteria and risk assessment. Those selected will also face unannounced location, substance misuse and mobile phone checks.
The first phase of the programme will include job interviews and securing employment, and prisoners will live in the unit full-time. In the second phase prisoners will work during the day and return each evening from Monday to Thursday. In this phase some may be released at the weekend returning on Monday. And in phase three prisoners will be permitted to reside and work full-time in the community, reporting to the pre-release unit once a fortnight.
Northern Ireland Prison Service director general Sue McAllister stressed the prisoners at Burren House will be low-risk.
"Burren House is a safe, low security pre-release facility where low-risk assessed prisoners can be adequately tested before they are released into the community," she said.
"These arrangements have operated successfully for prisoners in Northern Ireland for a number of years and the dedicated facility improves our capacity to assess and manage risk as prisoners return to the community."