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Last Updated: Monday, 10 December 2007, 18:02 GMT
New 200m prison to be announced
By Vincent Kearney
Home Affairs Correspondent

Magilligan Prison
Magilligan Prison was built in 1972
The government is expected to announce next week that it is to build a new 200m prison at Magilligan, near Coleraine.

The location is not the government's ideal choice, but what it can afford.

If it had a blank cheque, the government would not build a new prison at Magilligan.

Its remote location means access is a huge problem, the site is 71 miles from Belfast, where a majority of prisoners in Northern Ireland come from.

The existing jail on the site was built in 1972 and the accommodation consists of a combination of H-blocks, second world war Nissan huts and portable huts.

A number of reports have criticised the facilities and its location, and said the prison should be closed.

But the government doesn't have a blank cheque and money is a key issue.

It would be a disaster for this whole area if the prison is located somewhere else and that is something the government must consider
Gregory Campbell, DUP

The prison service has looked at 23 government-owned sites in Ballymena, Craigavon and Cookstown as possible locations for a new adult male prison.

The reason is quite simple - the existing prisons for men, at Magilligan and Maghaberry near Moira, simply can't cope with the growing prison population.

Seven years ago, following the early prisoner releases under the Good Friday Agreement, there were fewer than 900 prisoners in Northern Ireland.

But recently, the figure was just over 1,500 and that is expected to rise to more than 1,600 within two years.

Fast forward 15 years to 2022 and the government forecasts that the prison population could be as high as 2,700.

Maghaberry was built to accommodate 450 prisoners, but there are more than 800 there, many of them sharing cells.

There are about 400 at Magilligan, but new accommodation blocks will be added next year to increase its capacity.

It's clear that a new prison is needed, the question is where, and at what cost.

The government is believed to favour a prison with up to 1,000 individual cells, with blocks built in the shape of the letter X, which would provide good sight lines for staff, and reduce the number of prison officers needed.

About 80 acres will be required, and with the Stormont Executive putting pressure on departments to secure as much money as possible for land, the cost could be about 60m, and that's before a brick is even laid.

As for where, the search has now been narrowed to five options, which have been given to the security minister Paul Goggins, who will make the final decision.

It's understood that four of the options involve building on the current site at Magilligan.

And the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee will publish a report on the prison service on Wednesday, in which it's expected to recommend building the new prison at the current site as the most cost-effective option.

Gregory Campbell
East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell says the area needs jobs

One of the committee members is the DUP's Gregory Campbell, the MP for East Londonderry.

He's been cheerleading for the Magilligan site, and has warned that moving the prison elsewhere would exacerbate the economic crisis in the area around Limavady.

Almost 1,000 jobs will be lost with the closure of the Seagate factory, about 200 jobs will go when Ballykelly army base closes next summer, and another 70 are going at Huco electronics.

"That's nearly 1,300 jobs going in the Limavady area, or the equivalent of around 13,000 job losses losses in Belfast, something that would cause absolute outrage," says Mr Campbell.

"It would be a disaster for this whole area if the prison is located somewhere else and that is something the government must consider."

More than 400 people are employed at the prison, and more than 60% of them live within 20 miles.

A consultant's report commissioned by the prison service estimated that the prison makes an annual contribution of just 7m to the local economy.

Gregory Campbell used one of the committee meetings to call on Security Minister Paul Goggins to give people of the area an early Christmas present by announcing that the Magilligan site has been chosen as the location for the new prison.

My understanding is that the minister will oblige next week when he makes a statement about the future of the prison estate.

Work is expected to start within five years, and the estimated cost is more than 200m.



VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
What the new prison could look like



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