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Gerry Kelly (Sinn Féin)

10. asked the Minister of Justice for an update on the pilot scheme for full-body scanners in Magilligan and Hydebank Wood prisons. (AQO 2040/11-15)

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David Ford (Alliance)

As I previously announced, I have made a commitment to pilot the use of full-body imaging scanners. There is a range of technologies available, and the pilot will focus on two of those — transmission X-ray and millimetre wave — with a view to assessing their suitability for use in Northern Ireland’s prisons.

Transmission X-ray scanners have not yet been approved for use in UK prisons, and authorisation must be obtained under the Justification of Practices Involving Ionising Radiation Regulations 2004. An application for use in a prison setting has been made for Holme House prison in Yorkshire. However, it is clear that that process will take some months to complete. I will therefore be writing to the Environment Minister this week regarding the submission of a separate application in respect of prisons in Northern Ireland.

The use of millimetre wave scanners does not require the same level of approval, and the Prison Service will therefore be able to commence a pilot of those scanners sooner than the pilot of the transmission X-ray scanners. Prison Service officials have received a written proposal from one supplier to facilitate the pilot of millimetre wave body scanners at Magilligan prison and Hydebank Wood YOC. I hope to receive proposals from the other supplier later this week. I can also confirm that I wrote to the Justice Committee on 3 May to provide further details on the necessary steps for the piloting of full-body imaging scanners.

Photo of Gerry Kelly

Gerry Kelly (Sinn Féin)

Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I thank the Minister for his answer. Will he give us dates or at least a time frame for the pilot schemes to start and, more importantly, finish so that, if the scanners work, they can be given to all prisons to stop the controversy around full-body searches?

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David Ford (Alliance)

I appreciate Mr Kelly’s point, but I regret that I cannot give any timescale for the pilot of transmission X-ray scanners because of the issues of approval, which lie beyond our responsibility. I am hopeful, as I said previously, that we will see the millimetre wave scanners in the two units at some point during the summer for a trial period of between three and six months and an assessment as fast as possible thereafter.

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Sydney Anderson (DUP)

I thank the Minister for his responses. Is there a security assessment for the scanners? Is there an estimated cost for a scanner in each prison or scanners in all prisons?

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David Ford (Alliance)

I appreciate Mr Anderson’s point, but the security assessment will be done on the basis of seeing how the scanners operate as opposed to the current full-body searching.

As far as the costs are concerned, given the sensitivity of the negotiations that are under way between two suppliers, it would be a little bit foolish to go into the detail of costs at this stage. Obviously, costs will be made available when it is possible to reveal them without damaging commercial sensitivity.

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Tom Elliott (UUP)

I know the Minister is hampered somewhat by the commercial sensitivities, but can he give us an indication of who will carry out the evaluation of the pilot schemes?

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David Ford (Alliance)

The pilot schemes will be evaluated by Prison Service staff, who will call in such outside expertise as they require.

Photo of Pat Ramsey

I thank the Minister for his responses. Does he agree that the aim is to end the protest and tension in Roe House? Will he assure that House that, in expediting the pilot scheme on full-body scanners, he will implement the findings as quickly as possible across all prisons?

Photo of David Ford

David Ford (Alliance)

I agree that there is an urgency about ending the protest by some prisoners in Roe House. However, in support of the PRT’s recommendation 8, we are trying to find suitable alternatives to full-body searching to meet the needs of prisoners and prison staff across all three institutions, not just those of separated prisoners.