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Drug seizures inside Maghaberry prison fall to record low during pandemic

Sixty finds were made at Maghaberry high-security jail between late March and mid-June compared to 160 during the same period last year.

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A prison governor said the number of drug seizures inside prison has fallen to an all-time low (Michael Cooper/PA)

A prison governor said the number of drug seizures inside prison has fallen to an all-time low (Michael Cooper/PA)

A prison governor said the number of drug seizures inside prison has fallen to an all-time low (Michael Cooper/PA)

The number of drug seizures inside prison has fallen to an all-time low in Northern Ireland during the pandemic, a governor said.

Sixty finds were made between late March and mid-June compared to 160 during the same period last year.

Traffic in and out of Maghaberry high-security jail in Co Antrim has been dramatically diminished.

Short-term compassionate bail releases and visits to inmates have been cancelled, and the reduced footfall through the gate has cut the opportunity to pass on drugs.

We established the fullest possible routine that we could based on the fact that prisoners could not meet with other prisonersDavid Kennedy

Governor David Kennedy said: “That has had a significant impact on reducing any contraband coming into the prison.

“They are the lowest they ever will have been.”

During three-and-a-half months of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 700 people were committed to prison, including almost 100 during one 24-hour period.

At one point 113 were in quarantine for 14 days at any one time.

The virus triggered a major realignment of the prison service staffing, accommodation and admission procedures.

New admissions are not able to meet other prisoners until quarantine is over and they are definitely disease-free.

Mr Kennedy said he had never seen people quarantined for that long in more than three decades as a prison officer.

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The extra cells meant an increase in workload for the staff, Maghaberry governor David Kennedy said (Michael Cooper/PA)

The extra cells meant an increase in workload for the staff, Maghaberry governor David Kennedy said (Michael Cooper/PA)

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The extra cells meant an increase in workload for the staff, Maghaberry governor David Kennedy said (Michael Cooper/PA)

He added: “We established the fullest possible routine that we could based on the fact that prisoners could not meet with other prisoners.

“We worked very hard to deliver everything that we did.”

The prison had no difficulty in securing personal protective equipment, with suits in stock already, and staff were volunteering to work in the quarantine units even before they opened.

The new part of the prison, Davis House, was opened ahead of time to enable more prisoners to have cells to themselves.

Only 26 are sharing accommodation at present compared to 402 before the outbreak.

Mr Kennedy said: “That is a challenge in itself because you have to staff all the additional areas.”

The extra cells meant an increase in workload for the staff. A payment bonus was put in place for those working extra hours.

Mr Kennedy said: “We have an incredible, professional and dedicated workforce.

“We have people coming to us and volunteering to go to the quarantine section, people who knew exactly what they would be doing and they knew they would be provided with full personal protective equipment.”

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Justice Minister Naomi Long said the work being done to keep prisons safe for staff and inmates had been hugely impressive and paid tribute to their dedication throughout this time (Liam McBurney/PA)

Justice Minister Naomi Long said the work being done to keep prisons safe for staff and inmates had been hugely impressive and paid tribute to their dedication throughout this time (Liam McBurney/PA)

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Justice Minister Naomi Long said the work being done to keep prisons safe for staff and inmates had been hugely impressive and paid tribute to their dedication throughout this time (Liam McBurney/PA)

Justice Minister Naomi Long said the work being done to keep prisons safe for staff and inmates had been hugely impressive and paid tribute to their dedication throughout this time.

“The careful reintroduction of visits later this month will be welcome progress for families and those in our care: family contact is an important part of rehabilitation and I’m pleased we are now in a position to move this forward.”

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