Tuesday 21 January 2020

Young offenders to be removed from St Patrick's

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

ALL teenage offenders are to be taken out of St Patrick's Institution within two years in an attempt to stop them ending up in Mountjoy Prison next door.

There have been repeated criticisms of the holding of 16- and 17-year-olds alongside offenders aged up to 21 in the medium-security prison on Dublin's North Circular road. It has been described as a "finishing school" for rookie criminals.

Yesterday, Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald announced that she had secured €50m in funding to build a new detention facility for teenage offenders to go to instead of St Patrick's.

"It really is about breaking the cycle of going from St Pat's to Mountjoy Prison, which has been the pattern. The path has been too well worn over the years and we all known the impact of that," she said.

A new 60-room centre will be built in Oberstown in Lusk in Dublin, which already houses three youth-detention facilities.

Although the outdated Oberstown Boys' School is going to be closed down, there will still be 30 extra places overall, with the completion of the new facility in two years' time. And from next month, all 16-year-olds sentenced to detention by the courts will go to spare places in the existing Oberstown centres.

The new National Children Detention Facility was originally due to have 80 rooms but this was scaled back to 60 due to the economic climate.

Disgrace

St Patrick's houses 15 offenders aged 16 and 29 offenders aged 17. Children's Ombudsman Emily Logan has described it as a serious contravention of international human rights standards.

Ms Fitzgerald said she was moving as fast as she could to implement the commitment in the Programme for Government to take young offenders out of St Patrick's.

She said it was a "disgrace" that no action had been taken since the famous civil servant TK Whitaker called for the closure of St Patrick's in 1985.

Ms Fitzgerald said she was hoping to reduce the cost of looking after young offenders in Oberstown, which is at €298,000 per person per year, compared with €90,000 per year in St Patrick's.

She also said that funding was being provided for therapeutic teams because the young people being detained had a "whole range of problems".

"With educational facilities and the training facilities, hopefully it will give them an opportunity not to just go the way that many of these young people in St Patrick's have before," she said.

Although some young offenders now going to Oberstown will have convictions for serious offences, Ms Fitzgerald said the facilities there were secure, with just two escapes since 2007. "It's not a big issue," she said.

Last night, Children's Rights Alliance chief executive Tanya Ward said the concrete plan to move young offenders out of St Patrick's was a momentous achievement.

"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," she said.

Irish Independent

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