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Government Promises to End the Detention of Minors in an Adult Regime

Resource type: News

Children's Rights Alliance |

Statement from Children’s Rights Alliance

By Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of Children’s Rights Alliance

The Children’s Rights Alliance congratulates the Government’s promise to end the detention of 16- and 17-year-old boys in St. Patrick’s Institution. This is a momentous achievement for the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald TD, and we commend the Government for committing significant investment over the next two years.

This has been a major blot on the Government’s human rights record, and comes following our Report Card 2012 award of an ‘F grade’ to the Government for its work in relation to children in detention. We now welcome this concrete strategy, which includes an interim plan and clear timelines.

Congratulations must go to the Ombudsman for Children, Emily Logan, the Irish Penal Reform Trust and all of the other organisations that have campaigned tirelessly to bring an end to this children’s rights violation.

It’s imperative that this project commences on 1 May as scheduled, that funding remains ring-fenced and that no future austerity measures derail it over the next two years. The Alliance will be watching this space.

Statement from the Minister: New Ministry Secures Capital Funding to End Detention in Adult Prison After 27 Years of Inaction

Frances Fitzgerald T.D., Minister for Children and Youth Affairs today announced that capital funding of approximately €50 million over three years has been secured to end the detention of 16 and 17 year old boys in St. Patrick’s Institution, as committed to in the Fine Gael/Labour Programme for Government. The detention of children in St. Patrick’s Institution, which is an adult prison, has been criticised for over 25 years by domestic and international observers as being inappropriate for the rehabilitation of children and addressing their complex needs.

The Minister said: “Accommodating children in adult prison facilities is contrary to international standards in children’s rights and is something I am determined to end and I, working closely with my colleague Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Brendan Howlin, am very pleased to have secured capital funding to ensure this will be done in the next two years. This is a key investment in addressing the serious problems of Ireland’s most troubled teens. The path from St. Patrick’s Institution to Mountjoy Prison has been too well worn over the years. We must interrupt the predictable path of violence and crime and repeat offending progressing to further serious offending and committals in adult prisons. This development will allow us to place these young people in a secure environment that will offer them a second chance to be productive people who contribute to society.”

“Nothing costs society more than the cost of crime to individuals and communities and the cost to the taxpayer of cycles of imprisonment for young people who need academic and vocational education and support for complex personal and mental health needs, rather than a further education from older and more experienced criminals.”

“The detention of children in St. Patrick’s Institution has been consistently criticised since 1985 when, in the report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Penal System, chairman Dr T.K. Whittaker recommended the closing of St. Patrick’s Institution as soon as possible. His report stated that “rehabilitation is not possible as the physical and environmental conditions are such as to nullify any personal developmental programmes. The facilities and services required could not be provided even in a renovated St. Patrick’s”. It was also described as a “finishing school” for bullies and rookie criminals by Inspector of Prisons Mr. Justice Dermot Kinlen.”

The detention of children in St. Patrick’s Institution has also been criticised by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the European Committee on Social Rights and by Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg.

Commencing on 1st May 2012 all newly remanded or sentenced 16 year olds will be detained in the children’s detention facilities at Oberstown. The plan announced today is comprehensive and fully funded. The Minister said: “We will make very significant early inroads until, within two years, all those under 18 who need to be detained will be sent to dedicated child-specific facilities on the Oberstown campus. A major step towards ending this practice will be taken on 1 May next when newly remanded or sentenced 16 year olds will instead go to the children’s detention facilities at Oberstown.”

“The proposed facility will also provide an opportunity for a new and innovative response to the needs of Ireland’s most troubled teens. For many of them youth offending is often simply the result of other underlying risk factors. Some of these young people will end-up in the care system, some in the youth justice system but up to now too many have simply fallen through the gaps in-between. I have asked my Department to examine further scope to achieve a shift towards a new joined-up approach to special care and youth justice services.”

The measures being announced today include:

  • Approval of approximately €50 million over three years in capital funding to undertake the National Children Detention Facility Project at Oberstown. This will include six new detention units and associated education and training facilities.
  • The delivery within two years of sufficient new facilities at Oberstown to accommodate all children that are subject to detention by the courts, ending the requirement for anyone under 18 years to be sent to St. Patrick’s Institution.
  • From 1st May 2012 assignment of responsibility for the detention of newly remanded or sentenced 16 year old boys to the Children Detention Schools in Oberstown. This will mean that it will no longer be necessary for 16 year olds to be sent to St. Patrick’s Institution by the courts from this date onwards.
  • Enhanced provision of specialist therapeutic services for children in residential institutions, in both the children detention schools and special care units operated by the Health Service Executive. A specialist multi disciplinary service is being established for this purpose with the recruitment of a director for this service already underway.
  • The introduction of amendments to the Children’s Act 2001 to provide for the management of all facilities on the Oberstown campus (i.e. Oberstown Boy’s School, Trinity House School and Oberstown Girl’s School) on an integrated basis.

Editors Notes:

Oberstown Children’s Detention Facilities – There are three children detention schools in operation, all located on the Oberstown campus at Lusk, Co. Dublin. These are Trinity House School, Oberstown Boys School and Oberstown Girls School. The total current operational capacity on the campus is 44 places for males and 8 places for females. Under current arrangements, the children detention schools are authorised to detain males up to the age of 16 years and females up to the age of 18 years. The buildings accommodating Oberstown Boy’s School are in need of replacement. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs assumed responsibility for the children’s detention schools in January 2012.

St. Patrick’s Institution – St. Patrick’s Institution, North Circular Road, Dublin is an Irish Prison Service facility which provides detention places for boys aged 16 and 17 years of age, under a transitional provision in the Children Act 2001. The Institution also accommodates males over 18 years of age. The overall capacity is 214 places for 16 to 21 year olds. The Minister for Justice and Equality retains legal responsibility for St Patrick’s Institution, as part of the prison estate managed by the Irish Prison Service.

Costs – The original costing for the National Children Detention Facility Project at Oberstown was €90 million. In the context of Exchequer funding constraints the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs requested the Irish Youth Justice Service to examine if cost savings could be achieved. This examination has taken into account policy to promote community based alternatives to detention and recent reductions in overall numbers of children in detention on foot of Garda Youth Diversion Projects and the operation of probation schemes for young people.

Children’s Rights Alliance and the Irish Penal Reform Trust are Atlantic grantees.