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Prison Estate

Volume 502: debated on Wednesday 16 December 2009

The Northern Ireland Prison Service has a capacity of 1,775. The prison estate comprises two adult male prisons and a third establishment that houses both young offenders and women.

I am grateful to the Minister of State for that reply. Will he tell the House how many prisoners in Northern Ireland suffer from either drug addiction or mental health problems?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. The point of the question is to highlight how many vulnerable prisoners there are in Northern Ireland’s prisons, and how many suffer from mental health problems and personality disorders. There are high numbers of such people in prison in Northern Ireland, but he will be encouraged, I am sure, by the fact that about 18 months ago the health service in Northern Ireland took over responsibility for the delivery of health care, including mental health care. I expect to see substantial improvements in the support and service that is provided to vulnerable prisoners as a result of that measure.

Prisons in Northern Ireland are operating at close to full capacity, and for a long time now there have been discussions about the provision of a new prison in Northern Ireland. Will the Minister update us on that situation? Will the planned new prison be affected by the budget difficulties that are going to lead to capital cutbacks?

There are today 1,406 prisoners in prison in Northern Ireland, and that is lower than the figure on this day last year, when there were 1,481 prisoners in prisons. We are making available to the courts community sentences, electronic tagging and other measures that mean that, where appropriate, there is an alternative to prison. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to point to the need to improve accommodation. This year we have a new 60-cell block at Magilligan prison and a new 120-cell block at Maghaberry prison, and he and his hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Campbell), who is sitting next to him, will know that there is a clear commitment to rebuilding Magilligan prison. It badly needs rebuilding. The plans are in place, the work can begin in 2012 and the Government are mindful of the fact that it needs to be delivered. In all discussions between the Prime Minister and politicians from Northern Ireland, the need for a sustainable capital commitment to a new prison on the Magilligan site has always been on our minds.