Saturday 21 April 2018

Detention centre staff 'terrified' after stand-off

SAFETY FEARS: Employees are concerned following another violent incident at the Oberstown and Trinity House Campus in Lusk, Co Dublin
SAFETY FEARS: Employees are concerned following another violent incident at the Oberstown and Trinity House Campus in Lusk, Co Dublin
Jim Cusack

Jim Cusack

Staff at the State's only youth detention centre have accused management of playing 'Russian Roulette' with their lives and safety following another violent stand-off and attempted escape.

Gardai were called to the facility at Oberstown in north county Dublin but were turned away by management during the four-hour incident on July 19, according to sources. Staff say they face being disciplined and even losing their jobs if they call gardai to help in violent situations.

The latest serious incident follows a succession of attacks on staff, major vandalism within the facility, escapes and attempted escapes since Oberstown was opened last year.

Staff say they were threatened repeatedly with improvised weapons by three youths who stole keys and attempted to escape after wrecking rooms and equipment in the centre.

The incident on July 19 began with staff attempting to stop two youths smoking inside one of the units in the centre. One said: "Staff opened the door to bring the YPs (young persons) to a timeout room, as per procedure, and they ran out of the door towards the kitchen area where one of the boys proceeded to smash a ceramic plate and use it as a weapon in a threatening manner towards staff. They also grabbed keys and a swipe card from staff."

Sources said that the two youths then made their way into a dormitory area and forced other inmates to hand over belongings. They were also joined by a third youth.

A source said: "At this point, several staff were terrified as one of the YPs is known to be very unpredictable and dangerous and it was decided to remove ourselves from the corridor. However, we could not get off the corridor as the door system was locked down so we became trapped there with three dangerous threatening young people who had weapons.

"The door was eventually unlocked and staff got through into the living room, leaving the three boys on the corridor. They then got into a multi-purpose room and started looking for more weapons. They also went into the ladies' toilet on the corridor and began smashing things there in order to manufacture weapons."

As the incident continued, the youths eventually escaped from the locked unit and "made their way around the facility, smashing windows in other YPs' bedrooms and other windows as they moved.

Read more: Teen escapes youth detention facility and climbs onto the roof

"They made their way up to the old Oberstown facility where they got on to the roof and on the way smashed a maintenance vehicle window which allowed them to obtain weapons from the vehicle (a steel file, a saw and a trowel). They also had a snooker cue".

The youths then climbed on to a roof but agreed to come down and surrender their weapons.

One source said: "Staff were visibly upset and angry at the lack of protocols around boys getting security cards and overriding keys, as well as the fear of reprimand for not restraining a YP properly. Staff were afraid to tackle the YP for fear of losing their jobs. Staff also voiced their concerns about the gardai not being called.

"Thankfully no one was injured in this incident, but the potential for serious injury or death to staff and other YP cannot be underestimated."

The source said the feeling among staff was that the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, which is responsible for the centre, is "playing Russian Roulette with staff and YPs' lives here and will not call the garda in any situation, possibly until someone gets seriously hurt".

The source added: "There is a climate of fear running across the entire campus and staff do not feel supported or protected while in work. Staff on the floor are fearful of making important decisions for fear of reprimand. Staff were injured physically and mentally during this crisis.

"Staff have taken time off work due to injuries and some are very badly shaken and some have had some form of counselling already and may need more."

The department said: "It is not the policy of the department to comment on specific individual incidents as these are operational matters."

It also issued a table which showed that there was only one 'serious' incident in Oberstown this year.

Sunday Independent

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