Fears over violence at juvenile prison

A prison watchdog has raised concerns at the ability of Oberstown children’s detention school to handle violent 17-year-old offenders.

The warning from the St Patrick’s Institution prison visiting committee follows a number of serious incidents at the jail, including one involving the biting of two prison officers, who subsequently had to undergo HIV tests.

The extended children’s facility at Oberstown, north Dublin, is to take all offenders aged under 18 — as detention of young offenders at St Patrick’s ceases.

The 2014 annual report of St Patrick’s visiting committees was one of 11 such reports published yesterday by the Department of Justice.

At least three other jails —Limerick, Mountjoy and Cloverhill — are experiencing problems caused by high numbers of prisoners on protection.

The Cloverhill visiting committee expressed serious concerns about a “potentially dangerous situation” at the remand prison, which it said seemed to be linked to overcrowding.

Drugs was highlighted as a continuing serious problem in Mountjoy and Cloverhill.

With the final closure of the jail this year, the St Patrick’s visiting committee raised a number of issues.

“We are concerned as to how Oberstown will be able to handle unruly 17 year olds,” the report said.

“This cohort is quite different from the current inmates in Oberstown. In St Patrick’s, some of them have been responsible for serious incidents, hospitalising of prison officers and actions leading to large numbers of vulnerable inmates being placed on protection. Can Oberstown cope with this?”

In one of the incidents, last June, one inmate attacked another and injured two prison officers, by biting, after they attempted to intervene. The report said both officers required hospital treatment and had to undergo HIV tests.

The report shows that throughout the year they flagged the issue of how Oberstown would be able to handle this group.

After its August visit, the report said: “The committee again raised concerns about young violent inmates going to Oberstown and the resources that would be available to manage and care for them there.”

The committee also called for those turning 18 to be kept in Oberstown: “Another concern is the transition of sentenced inmates from Oberstown to adult prisons on reaching their 18th birthday. This is also a concern of many of their parents. We feel that there should be some type of facility to house young adult inmates, say from 18 to 23. ”

The Cloverhill report raised concerns about overcrowding, which often meant inmates sleeping on floors. New committals can be put into cells at night with mattresses causing “tension and disruption”.

“We urge the Irish Prison Service to be more proactive in dealing with this potentially dangerous situation,” it said.

The committee was also concerned about a “substantial increase” in protection prisoners.

The report expressed disappointment at the lack of drug dogs, noting they had “never encountered” them on visits. It said the amount of drugs coming over prison walls was a “huge concern”.

The Mountjoy report said that “considerable amounts of drugs” were still getting into the prison.

The Limerick visiting committee said overcrowding continued to be a concern and the high numbers on protection was “something that must be addressed”.

The Cork Prison report reiterated its concern at the conditions, but said the new prison was due to open this December.

Dochas visiting committee said they encountered “serious overcrowding” during the first 11 months of 2014, which had “a serious impact” on all aspects of prison life. It said there was a significant drop thereafter and that this had created an environment “much more conducive to the well-being” of inmates and staff.

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