Staff shortages leave beds for young offenders empty
EIGHT beds at one of the country's under-pressure facilities for youth offenders are lying empty due to staffing shortages.
Judges at the busy juvenile courts have constantly highlighted the lack of spaces available in detention centres – even asking the office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs last year to explain the problem.
New Minister for Children Charlie Flanagan has pledged court concerns over a lack of detention places for young offenders will be addressed with the phased opening of the Oberstown campus this year.
However, the Irish Independent has learned that beds remain closed at one of just three child detention schools in the State.
The Department of Children and Youth Affairs has confirmed eight out of the 24 beds in Trinity House School on the Oberstown campus in north Co Dublin are closed.
"The total capacity in use in Trinity House School is reduced to 16 places due to staffing shortages," a spokeswoman confirmed.
The bed closures mean there are a total of 40 places for young males and six for young females. In mid May, there were 37 male teenagers on the campus and three girls.
"The Oberstown campus is operating near or at full operational capacity at most times for males," the department said.
The spokeswoman said there was daily coordination between the courts, probation services and the justice service to help ensure requirements for detention places are met. Sick leave has previously been highlighted as an issue at the campus.
Fianna Fail's spokesman on children, Robert Troy TD, highlighted a case last year in Limerick when a judge sentenced a teenager to detention but there was no space for him.
"It is, number one, not fair on the adolescent but also the people in society, where a person who poses a risk to themselves and also the general public," he said.
Maria Corbett, legal and policy director of Children's Rights Alliance, said the matter must be dealt with urgently.
Work is under way on a €56.4m overhaul of the outdated Oberstown campus in Lusk. And, at a recent update of the work, Mr Flanagan said he was concerned that judges frequently had to complain about the issue and the new development would help address it.
At the moment 17 year olds are being held on remand in St Patrick's Institution, and after sentencing in Wheatfield detention centre. However, the government plans to have the first three residential units open by the end of this year and that will end the detention of 17 year olds in the adult prison system.
The system experienced a spike since the Government moved to end the practice of detaining 16 year olds in adult facilities.