Magilligan governor: ‘Drugs are a cancer within prisons’

Magilligan Prison governor Steve Davis. Picture Margaret McLaughlin �
Magilligan Prison governor Steve Davis. Picture Margaret McLaughlin �

A prison governor whose warders saved an inmate’s life after a major drugs incident has spoken candidly about his jail’s constant battle against substance abuse.

Steve Davis, of Magilligan prison in Co Londonderry, said he was “immensely proud” of how those staff involved managed the recent life or death situation – and said drugs continue to pose a serious risk within the Province’s jails.

The prison boss was commenting after a 26-year-old inmate became critically ill through drug abuse in the run-up to Christmas.

“In this incident, human beings could have died. Had it not been for my staff, people would have died,” he said. “Drugs are present in all prisons. Anybody who takes anything that isn’t prescribed to them takes a risk. The problem in something like this is that drug-taking is not always a solitary activity, it can also be a social activity and in this case we had a number of individuals in the same area taking similar stuff.”

Governor Davis said the prison regime took a tough stance on drug abuse but is adamant a balance has to be struck to ensure non-drug using inmates are not denied a lack of contact with visitors.

“I will do all in my power to provide a humane regime, so in terms of providing a humane regime then I have to balance potential risks, and this is now becoming a significant risk,” he said.

“I have seen babies through to old age pensioners having been used to smuggle stuff in. If you were using this outside then you will try to get it inside. I am certain I have prisoners that deal in it because a prison is like a community. It has demands and it has individuals that will supply that demand – and if I get half an opportunity and information, I will remove those individuals from that community and isolate them.”

With a ratio of three warders to 50 inmates on a prison landing, Mr Davis said his staff have to be constantly alert to the potential abuse of prescribed medication also.

“We have ‘supervised swallow’ in Magilligan and we do that three times a day.

“The nursing staff ensure that a lot of the medication that would be traded – or viewed as having the potential to be traded – amongst prisoners will be issued to the prisoner and the prisoner will take it in front of the nurse.”

Mr Davis added: “Drugs are a scourge – they are a cancer within society and they are a cancer within jails.”