Prisoners on home leave from Magilligan are being bullied by criminals into bringing drugs back into the jail.
All sorts of drugs from heroin, cocaine, cannabis and legal highs to strong prescription medications such as tramadol and valium are being circulated as black market currency in local jails.
That’s according to Brendan McGuigan, the Chief Inspector of jails in Northern Ireland, who recently revealed the situation to the Stormont Justice Committee.
He said: “You name it and it is available in that environment. It becomes a black market currency.
“Not so much on the Maghaberry inspection, but the last time we inspected Magilligan, it was very clear that some prisoners were being intimidated and bullied while on home leave to bring drugs back into the prison or, indeed, their families were being intimidated to bring drugs, through their visits, and pass them through that way.
“It is only with the courage of going forward and advising the prison authorities that these approaches have been made.”
Statistics have shown that eight per cent of prisoners tested for illegal drugs in Magilligan tested positive.
The figure is similar at Hydebank but it’s even worse at Maghaberry.
But Mr McGuigan said it’s not an easy matter to deal with.
Criminal gangs operating within and without local jails are intimidating both prisoners and members of their families.
“I know that you might ask why they do not take this to the police, and I understand that,” explained Mr McGuigan.
“But, sometimes in communities, people are really concerned about reprisals. It is better to stop drugs coming in than perhaps trying to apprehend the people who do it. Sometimes, some of that influence and those directions are coming from within the prison; it is not just somebody on the outside doing it.
“It could well be that fellow prisoners see an opportunity, know that somebody is on home leave, and somehow get messages out.”
This takes on a sinister turn when accomplices outside the jail start terrorising communities.
“There is a knock at the door of the family home, where the person is told, ‘We want you to bring this back in, and, if it does not happen...’
“We talked to two prisoners at Magilligan who went through the discipline process.
“Much of that was around keeping them safe so that they could integrate back in the prison population after they had served their time in the segregation unit for trying to bring concealed drugs into the prison,” he said.
Meanwhile, the former Governor of Magilligan, Stephen Davis, suggested that despite the focus on illegal drugs, alcohol was the most in demand product being smuggled in.
“In Maghaberry and Magilligan, the type of prisoner and the type of drugs abused are similar,” he said.
“Ultimately, the main drug of choice coming into the prison continues to be alcohol, believe it or not, rather than prescription drugs or other chemical compounds.”