A prisons’ watchdog has said it is “alarming” that new psychoactive substances are not being detected by drug dogs at Magilligan Prison.

It also found that the dangerous drugs are changing so fast that it is “extremely challenging” for staff to tackle.

The Independent Monitoring Boards (IMBs), the independent oversight bodies for Northern Ireland’s three prisons, published their annual assessment of conditions at HMP Magilligan, HMP Maghaberry and HMP Hydebank Wood.

Board members visit the prisons and report on the conditions of imprisonment and the treatment of inmates as well as considering their requests and complaints.

The report found the supply of drugs and illicit substances continue to get into Magilligan Prison, despite the “observational skills and diligence of staff”.

The report said that efforts are being made to work towards a “drug-free” prison using incentives for prisoners who are not using drugs.

“It is alarming that the new psychoactive substances are not being detected by the drugs dogs at the point of entry,” the report said.

“Prescription drugs and the misuse of same continues to create a problem as many of these fall into the wrong hands, acting as currency within the prison.

It also found that most prisoners in Magilligan Prison, near Limavady, who are engaging in education and training find it rewarding and worthwhile with many saying that they feel more confident they will get a job after they are released.

One of the concerns raised included rising incidents of poor mental health which is exacerbated by long term sick leave staff.

“The one mental health nurse is completely overwhelmed by the volume of referrals made to him, greatly exacerbated by prisoners transferred from Maghaberry Prison with no mental health assessments,” the report added.

A report from Maghaberry Prison, which holds adult male long-term and short-term sentenced and remand prisoners, found that there is a high volume of drugs in theprison.

Patrick McGonagle, chair of IMB at Maghaberry, said: “While drugs continue to be a problem in Maghaberry, as in every other prison, we are pleased that the management continue to take robust action suspected with bringing unauthorised items into theprison.

It found that prescription medication is the most common drug that has been showing up in tests adding that there is also a rise in cocaine and heroin.

“It is disturbing to note the high risks taken by prisoners in secreting large amounts of illegal substances on their person,” the report continued.

The board at Hydebank Prison, which houses young offenders (students) and female prisoners, said it was impressed by the range of subjects offered to inmates, adding that sheep rearing and husbandry has been introduced to an “enthusiastic group of students”.

Read the Report