Published Wednesday, 18 July 2012
Sue McAllister, who is the new head of Northern Ireland Prison Service. (© UTV)
Director General Sue McAllister said the service needs to build up its intelligence about illegal substances through better relations between warders and inmates.
Prison Ombudsman Pauline McCabe wants more done to tackle the problem following the death of Aaron Hogg, 21, who was found dead in his Maghaberry Prison cell in May last year after taking a cocktail of drugs.
One solicitor has claimed the high security jail was awash with narcotics.
Ms McAllister said: "With finite resources we need to be a bit cannier about where we target.
"There is a place for random testing and it is a good deterrent but equally we probably should get better at building a rich picture of intelligence trends through knowing what is going on in our jails so that we can target areas for testing."
The 51-year-old mother of two is the first woman to hold the most senior position in the Northern Ireland Prison Service.
She took up post at the beginning of this month and will be paid an annual salary of £100,000, replacing Colin McConnell, who left to become head of the Scottish Prison Service.
Mrs McAllister`s last posting was at Onley Prison in Northamptonshire and she has 25 years` experience in the prison service, including as a governor of a prison and a young offenders' centre.
She was part of a review team which produced a highly critical report on the Prison Service after Colin Bell died by suicide in Maghaberry in July 2008 while being monitored.
Earlier this month, a prisoner found dead in his cell also at Maghaberry was the sixth suicide in 18 months at jails in Northern Ireland.
Mrs McAllister said neither she nor her staff were complacent about deaths in custody.
"There is a will to address this, every death in custody is one too many," she added.
She also described Maghaberry as "the most complex prison in Europe" in terms of the many different groups of prisoners it holds.
Mrs McAllister told UTV: "We need to build a Prison Service that is focused on reducing re-offending so that we can make the proper contribution to the wider reducing re-offending strategy."
The director general said there had been a concentration on physical security but now the service was trying to improve the prison environment with a strategy including greater communication between inmates and warders.
She said this did not mean staff are expected to be prisoners' friends.