Fears over transfer of young offenders

Concerns are being raised as to how the educational and childcare requirements of young offenders being transferred from St Patrick’s Institution to Wheatfield Prison are going to be met.

It comes as Emily Logan, the Children’s Ombudsman, visits Wheatfield Prison today to seek assurances from the head of the Irish Prison Service (IPS) that the “deeply ingrained dysfunctional culture” in St Patrick’s is not perpetuated in Wheatfield.

Alan Shatter, the justice minister, on Wednesday announced that the prison for those aged from 17 to 20 was being closed down on foot of demands from the Inspector of Prisons.

Judge Michael Reilly issued the demand in his 2011 annual report because of persistent and “very disturbing” breaches of the fundamental rights of inmates there.

He further insisted that, pending the full operation of the Oberstown Children’s Detention Centre, that the 17-year-olds in St Patrick’s “must” be transferred to a dedicated unit with separate accommodation and facilities, with no contact with older prisoners.

He said they “must” be served by both “healthcare workers” and prison officers “specially selected” and trained for the job.

He said those aged from 18 to 20 should have a separate wing, with their own accommodation and recreation facilities. He said they could share education and training facilities with older prisoners.

The IPS told the Irish Examiner that staff would be “selected” for the juvenile unit, but said that they would have to recruit childcare workers.

He confirmed that they did not have Government sanction to do so, yet.

Liam Herrick, director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, raised concerns over the lack of childcare staff.

“Last year, when it was announced that St Patrick’s would be closed [but no date given], they said prison officers would be working with staff from the Youth Justice Service,” he said.

“That does not seem to have happened. The Inspector of Prisons is clear that having childcare staff is essential.”

Mr Herrick also said Wheatfield was “already overcrowded”. He said, based on a report by the Inspector of Prisons, there was “at best” education and workshop training facilities in Wheatfield for 350-400 prisoners. Currently, there are 618 inmates there.

Some 119 prisoners in St Patrick’s will add to that, although a possibly similar number of prisoners in Wheatfield will move to make way.

“It’s not apparent how the education and facilities situation will change, but they will obviously have to bring other workshops on stream,” he said.

Ms Logan told RTÉ radio yesterday that the culture in St Patrick’s “clearly indicated a lack of humanity”, caused by the “disgraceful behaviour” of some of its staff.

“Why I’m going out to meet the director of the prison service is to seek his assurance about the very deeply ingrained dysfunctional culture that existed in St Patrick’s to ensure this is not going to be replicated in Wheatfield,” she said.


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