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Ford outlines proposals for future investment in prison estate

Justice Minister David Ford today outlined proposals for a future 202million investment in the prison estate.
Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The development of the prison estate is an opportunity for us to create an environment which will promote change, reduce risk and enhance public safety, while providing accommodation which provides value for money and is fit for purpose

Minister of Justice David Ford,Northern Ireland Department of Justice

In a statement to the Assembly (PDF 32 KB), following a full public consultation exercise, the Minister said that future prisoner provision had to be driven by the need for enhanced safer custody arrangements and improved public safety which supports rehabilitation and promotes desistance from crime.

In his interim statement to the Assembly last November the Minister gave details of his emerging thinking and today he spelt out his detailed proposals, saying;

“The development of the prison estate is an opportunity for us to create an environment which will promote change, reduce risk and enhance public safety, while providing accommodation which provides value for money and is fit for purpose. While much of the development will take place outside of the current budget period, the proposals which I am putting forward today are an important marker in the future direction of travel of the Prison Service.”

The key elements in the Ministerial announcement are as follows;

  • the phased redevelopment of Magilligan Prison;
  • the reconfiguration of Hydebank Wood as a secure college;
  • the provision of a separate, dedicated facility for women offenders which provides both custodial and community services;
  • the reconfiguration of Maghaberry Prison, including the development of a new accommodation block and high security facility;
  • the development of a working out unit on the site of the former Prisoner Assessment Unit.

In relation to the future of Magilligan Prison the Minister said;

“From the outset I have been consistently clear that my decision regarding its future needs to be based on what is best for the people of Northern Ireland in terms of enhancing public safety through reducing offending.  

“In November I indicated that I was inclined towards retaining a prison on the Magilligan site, subject to evidence being provided that issues concerning rehabilitation and family links could be adequately addressed.  Over the last few months, my officials in NIPS have been continuing to engage with a range of stakeholders on this issue and have been working with local councils and business representatives from the North West to consider how Magilligan Prison could be used in a different way to overcome the challenges posed by its remote location.

“This has helped shape my thinking and I am now convinced that there is a case for the retention of Magilligan.  However, much of the prison is no longer fit for purpose and has outlived its useful economic life.  To this end I am proposing that there should be a phased redevelopment of Magilligan which will allow the prison to remain open and operate as normal during the construction period.  Subject to funding, I anticipate that the redevelopment of the prison should be complete by 2020.”

Speaking on the secure college development at Hydebank Wood Mr Ford said that officials from both the Department of Justice and Department for Employment and Learning were working together to produce the best model for going forward.

He said; “The secure college approach is about raising the value placed on learning and skills and changing attitudes towards offender management through positive engagement and interaction.  It will enhance existing multi-disciplinary and multi-agency working arrangements and at its heart will be a revised learning and skills curriculum with a key focus on life and employability skills.  I anticipate that the new curriculum will be introduced in 2014.”

In relation to the female prison population the Minister said that that there was ‘broad agreement’ that there should be fewer women in custody and that work aimed at reducing offending and diverting women away from custody was at an advanced stage.

Mr Ford said "I want a community based approach to be the norm when dealing with women’s offending and that is why I have committed to establishing a new, separate facility for women offenders combining both custodial provision for those women requiring secure custody, and facilities for those women for whom a community based approach is more appropriate.

“My officials, working with colleagues in PBNI are still in the process of developing options in terms of shape and size, and a number of options for the location of the new facility, including three areas on the existing Hydebank Wood site, are being considered.  Subject to the approval of business cases and funding being made available, it is envisaged that a new facility for women offenders could be established as early as 2018.”  

The Minister also announced plans to build a new 360 cell accommodation block at Maghaberry Prison and his intention to re-open the Prisoner Assessment Unit on the Crumlin Road.

He said; “The creation of this additional accommodation will not only ease housing pressures within the prison but will enable the Prison Service, on a phased basis, to reconfigure Maghaberry into three discrete sections, catering for remand prisoners, low to medium-security sentenced prisoners and high-security prisoners, with appropriate regimes, interventions and security in place for all.  Subject to the necessary approvals I would hope that construction could commence as early as late 2014.

“In recognition of the importance of managing the difficult transition between prison and community, particularly for prisoners who have served long sentences, I indicated in my November statement my intention to redevelop the prisoner assessment unit located on the Crumlin Road as a ‘working out unit’ for prisoners approaching the end of their sentence.  As an interim solution, a business case for the refurbishment of the existing site is nearing completion.  Subject to approval of this business case, work will commence later this year.  I intend to review provision after a year, at which time I will, if I deem it necessary, consider options for a rebuild on the existing site.”

Notes to editors

1.Download the full statement (PDF 32 KB)

2.For media enquiries please contact the Prison Service Press Office 028 9052 0938 or 028 9052 5354.  Out of hours contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 07699 715 440 and your call will be returned.