Plans to install body scanners in the republican wing of Magheraberry prison have been officially abandoned by the authorities, BtP can reveal.
The implementation of Recommendation 8 of the Anne Owers Report- which the then-Minister David Ford said would be brought into force, has been completely abandoned.
Confidential internal emails from the Office for Nuclear Development in the Department of Business in London who are responsible for liaising with the prison service on the scanners reveal that – in the words of an NI Prison Service official – the process has ‘ground to a halt’.
In March 2015, Chris Grayling, UK Justice Minister announced that English prisons would trial x-ray scanners to combat the worrying drug problem throughout the Prison Estate.
In essence, Recommendation 8 has been delayed at this time for four years, now six years from the publication of the Owers Report, with no end in sight. The Prison Service, rather that seeking actively to implement this crucial aspect of the Report, have relied on numerous UK policy shifts which have meant it could wash its hands of the responsibility of trialing the second stage of scanners which have the potential to address the concerns of Republican prisoners in Roe House, Maghaberry.
In January 2016, as part of a personal project to see the strip searching issue addressed in the Prison Estate after the production of the Anne Owers Report, I published what would be one of the first stories on this blog entitled ‘Prison scanners fiasco continues’ which can be read here.
Recommendation 8 of the Owers report states: ‘Efforts should be continued to see whether there is an effective and less intrusive method than full body-searching of ensuring that prisoners leaving and entering prison are not bringing in contraband.’
Following the publication of the report, the NI Prison Service announced that two trials involving electronic scanners to replace full body searches would take place. The first, which began in September 2012, utilised a millimetre wave scanner, much the same as those used in airports such as Belfast International.
In February 2013, however, the Prison Service ruled out the use of this technology in prisons as it failed to detect contraband such as knives and scissors in an internal trial – the results of which were not independently verified.
The second, more complex trial was set to use a backscatter x-ray scanner and due to the range of radiation this involves, is subject to European legislation, namely the Justification of Practices Involving the Use of Ionising Radiation Regulations 2004.
This process involved the Prison Service applying to the now-Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to use this technology in prisons. They did this in May 2013.
By the time I had written the original blog piece, this had been set back, as the National Offender Management Service, which provides strategic management of the Prison system had said they would now make an application for the whole of the UK to use the scanners.
I had released confidential internal emails soon thereafter that would indicate the seriousness with which the NI Prison Service took its responsibilities for the implementation of Owers – the person who had been managing the process within the Service had left, and the proposals were no further forward. Now it would seem that process is at an end.