Startling figures show that 44 young offenders in St Patrick’s Institution — a fifth of its inmates — are locked up in their cells 23 hours a day.
This marks an alarming jump, with previous figures showing that no one was held on 23-hour lock up in July 2012 and only two were in Nov 2011.
The figure includes two 17-year-olds who, according to international laws and domestic policy, should not even in be a prison with adult young offenders.
“There are very high levels of protection in St Pats and 23-hour lock-up is particularly worrying given the age and vulnerability of the people involved,” said Liam Herrick of the Irish Penal Reform Trust.
“I’m not sure what’s behind the figures. Is it just a more accurate recording of protection or is a more conservative approach being taken?”
St Patrick’s Institution is the only detention centre in the country for people aged 17 to 21.
It is the latest revelation from the troubled institution, which was the subject of a damning report by the Inspector of Prisons in October, which documented excessive use of force by some staff against prisoners and a culture of bullying.
Last September, the Irish Examiner revealed there were 367 assaults by prisoners on other inmates in St Patrick’s in 2011 — up to three times more assaults than adult prisons. There were 48 assaults on staff by prisoners — higher than Mountjoy Prison.
Figures from the Prison Service show the number of inmates on protection in St Patrick’s dropped from 66 on Jul 13, 2012, to 55 on Mar 19 last.
The bulk of inmates (49) in July were locked up for between 20 and 22 hours a day, whereas this month the bulk (44) were incarcerated for 23 hours a day.
Elsewhere in the prison system, there are 133 people on protection in Midlands (10 on 23-hour lock-up), 118 in Mountjoy (49 on 23-hour lock-up), 115 in Cloverhill (14 on 23-hour lock-up) and 87 in Wheatfield (all 23-hour lock-up).
There are 670 inmates on protection in prisons. The Prison Service said 421 of the 670 are not subject to a restricted regime and can freely associate with other protection prisoners for lengthy periods of the day.
There are 193 prisoners on 23-hour lock-up.
The Prison Service said the majority of prisoners on lock-up are considered to be under threat or at risk in the general population due to factors such as gangland feuding, drug debts, or because they gave evidence in a court case or because of the nature of their offences, such as sex crimes.
Mr Shatter has said the three 17-year-olds on protection in St Patrick’s receive 1.5 hours of education daily and one hour exercise. They also have access to the gym twice weekly for an hour.
He said there were no restrictions to visits or phone calls and they had access to psychology and drug counsellors.
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