Dublin: Children’s Ombudsman Calls For The Closure Of St Patrick’s Institution At (Mountjoy Prison)

9 Feb

NEWS UPDATE:

The incoming government must take action to stop children convicted of crimes being sent to St Patrick’s Institution, the Ombudsman for Children has said.

Ombudsman in youth custody call Enlarge photo

Emily Logan demanded teenagers under the age of 18 be moved from the harsh environment of custody to one of care.

However, it will be at least another three years before phase one of a new national child detention facility is due to open at Oberstown near Lusk in Co Dublin.

Ms Logan said while most child prisoners are detained in one division, a small number put on protection are moved to another wing alongside adult inmates.

She said: “The dynamic in a prison is very different. It’s a regime of custody. It’s not the same as having a young person in care where they are able to get therapeutic interventions and there are options in terms of reintegration and rehabilitation in a care environment.”

A total of 215 inmates between 16 to 21 years are in St Patrick’s Institution, including 38 juveniles under the age of 18. Its capacity is 217.

Brian Purcell, director general of the Irish Prison Service, said the reality was that juveniles had to go to St Patrick’s until the new facility is ready in Oberstown.

“It’s very difficult to provide the type of services required for 16 and 17-year-olds in what is essentially a Victorian era prison and it is a secure detention facility,” he said.

Ms Logan, who can not legally investigate cases from under-18s in St Patrick’s, met 35 young inmates to review their care at the institution. She found they had to rely on fellow inmates to find out about prison life when they first arrived and were reluctant to speak up about mental health difficulties.

Mr Purcell maintained a new induction course has been established with only one protection prisoner under 18 living in an adult division for his own safety.

—————–

JAMIE SMYTH, Social Affairs Correspondent: THE IRISH TIMES:

Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan has called on an incoming government to expedite the closure of St Patrick‘s Institution, a detention centre holding children and adults between the ages of 16 and 21.

She has also recommended that in the interim steps should be taken to introduce a care environment for the 50 or so children aged 16 and 17 detained in the facility next to Mountjoy jail.

“The Ombudsman . . . strongly believes children should not be detained in a prison environment and is seeking a commitment from the new government to expedite the closure of St Patrick’s Institution as a place of detention for children,” said Emily Logan, who published a report by her office today on the institution.

Young People in St Patrick’s Institution” details how most 16- and 17-year-olds are held in B-wing, which has a bed capacity of 44.

When the capacity is exceeded children are forced to double up and share cells or are held on C-wing or D-wing, which are landings for adult prisoners.

Young people at St Patrick’s interviewed by the Ombudsman’s office for the report reported concerns for their safety. “Can’t say I do feel safe, but I don’t feel threatened either,” said one. Another inmate said: “It’s a prison . . . you can’t seem to feel safe in a prison.”

The Ombudsman said she is “deeply concerned” by young people’s accounts about their perceptions and experiences of being placed in a special observation cell, which is known as “the pad”.

“Fucking freezing! A padded wall, no clothes on you, only a pair of Y-fronts, a pair of knickers,” said one inmate. “It’s horrible . . . the smell of the blankets . . . cockroaches and mice running around . . . shite stuffed in the walls,” said another inmate.

The report warns children may be reluctant to speak up about mental health problems for fear of being placed in “the pad”. It calls for a review of support services to ensure preventative interventions are adequate enough to preclude the use of the cell in all but exceptional circumstances.

In its comments on the report, the Irish Prison Service said, contrary to the perception of the boys, special observation cells were never used as a punishment. The purpose is to provide “immediate safety of the inmate and others”.

Brian Purcell, director general of the Irish Prison Service, who attended the launch of the report, said St Patrick’s would have to take in 16- and 17-year-olds until a new child detention facility based in Oberstown is built by the State.

“It is very difficult to provide the type of services required by 16- and 17-year-olds in what is essentially a Victorian era prison,” he said.

But Mr Purcell said improvements were being introduced such as a two-day induction course for all new prisoners. He said just one child under 18 is currently being accommodated with adults on the protection wing at St Patrick’s.

The Government has repeatedly committed to closing St Patrick’s Institution and moving all its detainees to a new facility at Oberstown, near Lusk in Co Dublin. However, a tender for the facility has not yet been published, and groups such as the Irish Penal Reform Trust are concerned about the availability of funding for the facility.

Ombudsman for Children Office

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