Stephen Farry stated:
“This is a welcome development insofar as it goes. Alliance has been clear that the current prison estate in Northern Ireland needs modernisation. As a society, it is important that we provide the necessary resources to ensure the protection of the community through detaining those who pose a threat. At the same, we must ensure that the welfare, including the mental health, of those in the care of the state is addressed, and efforts are made to rehabilitate them back in the community are effective.
“A replacement for Magilligan Prison is only one of many challenges facing the prison service. At around 1500, the prison population per head in Northern Ireland is now much lower than all other regions in the UK, but it is rising. As a region, we cannot access the same economies of scale as others, with the highest costs per prisoner being incurred. Our situation is made worse, through the continued practice of prisoners segregation in Maghaberry, which needs to be phased out.
“As confirmed by the NI Affairs Committee last week, there may well need to be another purpose built prison somewhere else in Northern Ireland. There is also the need to end the inappropriate co-location of young offenders and female prisoners at Hydebank Wood. Northern Ireland is also sending too many fine defaulters to prison, often for only a few days at a time. This is totally inefficient. Similarly, with over 40% of those detained being remand rather than sentenced prisoners, there is an urgent need for the court system to become more efficient.
“There is a clear need for an informed public debate, and a recognition of the costs involved in dealing effectively with threats to public safety. Alliance is keen to play its role.”