Belfast Telegraph

11 prisoners caught with drugs

Eleven prisoners in Northern Ireland have been caught with drugs during a crackdown at Maghaberry.

Three visitors to the high security prison in Co Antrim were also arrested suspected of trying to smuggle narcotics inside.

Previously Prisoner Ombudsman Pauline McCabe accused the authorities of tolerating the problem and accepting it as an inevitable part of life, while a solicitor claimed the jail was awash with the illegal substances.

Maghaberry governor Pat Maguire is overseeing a three-month pilot programme to reduce the supply within the prison walls.

"It is a very challenging problem but we are determined to get on top of this," he said.

"We want to play our part in helping reduce that dependency on drugs.

"I am committed to ensuring this prison is as safe as possible for all prisoners, staff and visitors."

A recent amnesty from prosecution ended without the recovery of any drugs. But since October 8, 11 prisoners have been placed under investigation for single or multiple offences.

One is for possession of the most serious type of narcotic, class A, another three for class B and five for class C. Two inmates are under investigation for possession of class C with the intent to supply.

Last night three visitors were arrested and a quantity of drugs recovered.

Inmates can smuggle illegal substances by swallowing or secreting them inside their bodies as they return from home visits or when initially being admitted. Friends or family may also bring them in, although 23 prisoners can only meet people when separated by a glass partition while 43 visitors are barred.

Mr Maguire said: "People will use all sorts of ingenious methods."

The Prison Service said it is making better use of tools like intelligence and CCTV cameras to help tackle the problem. Drug dogs have been employed at Maghaberry for some time.

Mr Maguire said a minority of prisoners used narcotics but the overall jail population is growing - it has hit an all-time high of 1,097 - meaning the number taking substances could be expected to grow even if the proportion does not.

The problem was investigated in two reports by the Ombudsman, who linked the deaths of two prisoners at Maghaberry to the availability of illicit substances and the abuse of prescription medication.

One, 21-year-old Aaron Hogg, hanged himself in his cell in May 2011 after taking a cocktail of drugs.

His solicitor told the BBC that Maghaberry was "awash" with drugs and said he regularly pleaded with judges not to send vulnerable clients to jail because of fears they would become addicted to drugs while behind bars.

Mr Maguire said: "With better education of staff and prisoners and partnership working with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to increase intelligence-led searching, we are determined that the supply and misuse of drugs within the prison will be disrupted."

This month's initiative between the prison governor and PSNI chief inspector Darrin Jones focuses on education on drugs awareness and the consequences of taking and dealing in them.

It also provides alternatives through better healthcare and support.

The scheme aims to introduce better enforcement, concentrated on increasing the number of seizures and applying criminal justice sanctions to those caught.

Mr Jones said: "Drugs misuse is a problem which impacts largely on society and unfortunately prisons are not immune from it and the hardships that are brought about by it.

"This is a unique opportunity for the prison service, the police service and other partners to work together in a concerted effort to reduce the supply and demand for drugs within Maghaberry."

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