COLERAINE councillors have backed a campaign by prison officers to save Magilligan Prison.
The prison has been ear-marked for closure as part of a ten year year reform programme.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, members of the Prison Officers’ Association attended to ask for Council support.
A petition was passed around the chamber, which was signed by members.
Addressing councillors, Finlay Spratt, Chairman of the Association, said that he hoped in the region of 20,000 people would put their signatures to the petition.
He invited the councillors to march with the Association to Parliament buildings on November 19, when the petition will be handed over to Justice Minister, David Forde.
Mr Spratt told the meeting that it would be an “injustice for the North West” if Magilligan was to close.
He added: “ There is no evidence to support the view that Magilligan Prison is in the wrong place.”
Councillors backed Mr Spratt and his colleagues.
Independent councillor David McClarty said: “There is deep concern throughout the north west.
“We need to make the Minister aware that this decision cannot be taken lightly.”
Responding to councillor McClarty, Mr Spratt said: “Already £3.7 million has been spent on a new development at Magilligan. A business plan is in place and architects have been assigned to the project.”
He went on: “Magilligan Prison is the best operated prison out of the three in Northern Ireland. It has been through the Troubles and it adapted for what was needed.”
The meeting heard that new sanitation blocks are planned for prisoners at the Magilligan site and that a new Northern Ireland Water treatment programme had included a 800 bed prison on their plans for upgrade at the site.
Alliance councillor Yvonne Boyle told the meeting that as an Alliance councillor she was in a “dilemma”.
“I have listened carefully and I will feed back to the Minister.”
Councillor Boyle asked if a smaller prison at the site would be acceptable.
Mr Spratt said that a smaller prison wouldn’t be acceptable.
“It was decided back in 2007 that an 800 bed prison would be built on the site, and I believe that’s what should be there, “ said Mr Spratt.
Ulster Unionist councillor William King lent his support to the petition. He said: “I have had three visits to Magilligan and I found the staff to be very efficient. I visited a prison in Malawi and believe me Magilligan is like a palace in comparison.”