Page last updated at 16:29 GMT, Friday, 24 July 2009 17:29 UK

Compulsory jail drug tests on way

prison cell

Compulsory drug and alcohol tests for Northern Ireland's prisoners are among rule changes set to be brought in by the prison service.

The results of the tests would affect when prisoners serving indeterminate or extended sentences would be released.

Another proposed change concerns the management of prisoners at risk of suicide or self harm.

The draft amendments to prison rules will be subject to a public consultation period of 12 weeks.

Also set to be brought in will be powers enabling the prisoner ombudsman to investigate complaints from visitors to prisons.

The director of the prison service, Robin Masefield, said the changes would help promote good order in Northern Ireland's prisons.

"The introduction of a rule allowing for compulsory testing for drugs and alcohol will help us in our efforts to minimise the damaging effects of substance abuse among the prison population," he said.

"It will also have implications for prisoners sentenced under the new public protection framework, particularly those who have received indeterminate or extended custodial sentences."

"Under the new sentencing system prisoners will have to demonstrate that they have genuinely addressed their offending behaviour.

"The results of drugs and alcohol tests are likely to be a factor in whether they are considered for release."

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