Belfast Telegraph

Concerns at growth in amount of illegal drugs smuggled into prisons

Daniel McCrossan
Daniel McCrossan

By Gillian Halliday

Illegal drugs have been seized more than 1,650 times in Northern Ireland's prisons during the past three years.

Maghaberry accounts for around two thirds of confiscations with 1,048 occurring since 2017 and August this year.

The figures, obtained from the Department of Justice, reveal Magilligan has had 142 drug finds recorded during 2018 - the same total in 2017.

So far this year, there have been 99 separate seizures.

Meanwhile, Hydebank, the centre for young offenders, had illegal drugs confiscated on 106 separate occasions last year - double the number during 2017 at 48.

For the first eight months of this years, there have been 75 in Hydebank.

The overall total for all of the prisons for the past three years is 1,658.

Ivor Dunne, chairman of the Prison Officers Association (POA), said yesterday it was crucial drugs are kept out of our prison system.

"It is extremely worrying that even with the zero tolerance policy, drugs do get into prisons by whatever means," he explained.

"The POA is calling for the zero tolerance to be rigorously enforced. Drugs lead to bullying, assaults, putting my members' health and safety at risk."

Meanwhile, SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan, who requested the figures from the DoJ's permanent secretary, said it was clear from the numbers that drug smuggling is a growing problem in prisons here.

"The issue of drugs in our prisons is a very complex one and it is surprising that the number of confiscations have not decreased," he said.

"I know the Prison Service are doing what they can to attempt to curb this issue. However, drug smuggling remains a challenge with large amounts entering our prisons.

"These statistics also raise the question as to what could be done to help prisoners get sober and what treatment should be offered. Some are vulnerable people and more resources should be provided for drug rehabilitation programmes."

Mr McCrossan added: "It's clear that more work needs to be done given the fact that hard drugs can be a contributory factor in many crimes and the reason those prisoners are reprimanded in the first place."

In response a spokesperson for the Prison Service acknowledged Mr McCrossan had engaged with the governor of Maghaberry on the issue, adding drug abuse is an issue for society as a whole.

"Many of the people in our care have a history of substance misuse. It is therefore not surprising that a small number will try to smuggle illegal contraband into prisons," they said.

"The Prison Service would like to pay tribute to the staff who have been involved in recovering drugs. This makes our establishments safer and sends out a clear message that people may be determined to smuggle drugs into prisons, but we are more determined to stop them."

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