A growing drugs problem at Magilligan Prison must be tackled by a specialised search team, a high powered new report warned today.
The Independent Monitoring Boards (IMBs), the independent oversight bodies for Northern Ireland's prisons, have published their annual assessment of conditions at HMP Magilligan near Limavady, as well as HMP Hydebank Wood and HMP Maghaberry.
Formerly known as the Board of Visitors, each prison is scrutinised by its own IMB consisting of members of the public with an interest in prison issues.
By law, Northern Ireland's three IMBs are required to provide the Secretary of State Shaun Woodward with an annual review of local prisons.
The IMB report for Magilligan, which is due to be replaced with a new £150m, 1,000 cell prison, made 10 recommendations in total dealing with the prison regime, security, the prison estate and healthcare provision. No decision has yet been taken on where the new prison will be built.
One of the problems highlighted at the Co Londonderry prison was drugs, and the report recommended the establishment of a specialist team.
It said: "It must also be noted that visits can be one method of introducing illegal drugs into the prison. The introduction of the passive drug dogs, search procedures, and scrutiny by CCTV reduces the possibility of drug transfer."
The prison - which currently houses 415 prisoners - has a drug free wing, and the report noted: "This unit provides places for 50 prisoners. Sperrin and Foyleview are also designated drug-free residential areas. This is an increase in provision for those electing to be in a drugs-free area."
The Board said that more provision for those prisoners wishing to transfer to drug-free areas must be a consideration in further planning.
The IMB Magilligan chairwoman, Joan Doherty, said: "It is vital that education and training is provided for more prisoners and that the length of time which courses are made available during the day should be extended.
"With regard to security the Board has made three recommendations to combat the increasing drugs problem at the prison."
A key recommendation would be the search team which, she said, "would be a valuable resource in targeting drug dealers".
While the report largely commended the work of Magilligan's Governor and his staff, the IMB has called for further improvements such as computerising prisoners' file information and installing CCTV at the Special Supervision Unit.
The reports have been submitted to the Secretary of State who will now consider the recommendations and respond accordingly.