A third break-out by inmates in two months from the controversial National Youth Detention Centre in north County Dublin has taken place, it has been confirmed.
Four youths, aged 16 and 17, are understood to have broken out of the new €56m facility at Oberstown last night at around 9.30pm.
The Garda Press Office confirmed that gardai at Balbriggan were alerted and a ‘major search involving the Garda helicopter’ took place. One youth was detained and returned to the centre. Three were still at large and being sought, a spokesman said.
No comment was immediately available from Dr James Reilly’s Department of Children and Youth Affairs which has responsibility for the centre.
The three still missing are understood to be from Dublin, Cork and Tipperary.
In May four other youths broke out of Oberstown, including one youth who was described as a ‘violent’ offender who was imprisoned for an attack on a female garda. Two weeks earlier two other youths escaped but were also recaptured.
The centre has been under severe pressure in the past three years since it began accepting increasing numbers of juvenile inmates with the closure of the St Patrick’s ‘juvenile’ wing of Mountjoy Prison. Detention of young offenders at St Patrick’s has been phased out following a series of damning reports on overcrowding and violence.
It is understood that the four young men who took part in the latest escape managed to break out of their dormitory wing, make their way on to a roof and acquire ladders that had been used by builders. They then scaled the perimeter wall.
It is also understood that staff were assaulted prior to the break-out with broken furniture and cutlery.
Staff at Oberstown have long complained about increasing problems involving assaults on staff in recent years with representatives from the Impact Union with one saying earlier this year that staff going to work were in constant fear and unable to apply proper restaint to violent inmates due to strict regulations on the treatment of ‘child’ offenders, officially all inmates under the age of years.
Following the last break-outs in May the Department said it had launched a review into how the boys managed to escape and the latest near identical break-out will be a cause of official embarassment.
The 80 staff at the facility have been raising concerns about their own safety and the safety of younger vulnerable teenagers as Oberstown houses both violent offenders and youths imprisoned on minor offences who have been sent to Oberstown as a place of safety.
In May 2013 an emergency motion was passed at an IMPACT national meeting raising concerns about safety in Oberstown. An official said that since April 2012 there has been a large increase in assaults on staff. In the space of one weekend, nine staff were assaulted. “Staff coming into work no longer know if they will be returning home to their families, or having to visit A&E before their shift is over,” the conference heard.
Since the process of closing St Patrick’s in Mountjoy began the number of detention centres for serious juvenile offenders has reduced significantly and ‘secure’ accommodation at what is termed the Oberstown Campus is available for only around 60 male and a handful of female inmates. It is understood the facility is permanently at capacity levels of accommodation.
There are around 20,000 ‘children’ before the courts or in the Youth Justice system at any given time and judges have for years been complaining of the lack of State facilities for both violent and vulnerable young people.
A spokesman for the Minister said Dr Reilly had been informed of the escape last night and that as soon as the escape was discovered gardai were alerted and a 'protocol' put in place. He said the one escapee who had been detained was back in Oberstown.