Oberstown youth facility review after roof riot

International experts are being called in to examine the operation of the country’s juvenile detention centre following a recent rampage by youths and industrial action by staff.

It comes after the Irish Examiner visited Oberstown Children’s Detention Campus last week and conducted a lengthy interview with director Pat Bergin.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone and Oberstown board of management chairwoman Ursula Kilkelly announced that two British professors are to conduct an evaluation of the north Dublin facility.

The experts, Barry Goldson of the school of law and social justice at the University of Liverpool, and Nicholas Hardwick, chairman of the UK Parole Board, are tasked with:

  • Evaluating practice and policy at Oberstown against international standards;
  • Identifying obstacles to implementing these standards;
  • Drawing up recommendations.

The commissioning of the review follows the chaotic events on August 29, when eight juveniles in a remand unit of Oberstown broke out of their rooms and gained access to the roof to stage a demonstration. It happened on the day staff took industrial action in a dispute over poor safety measures and increasing assaults.

Rooms in the centre’s Trinity House building were trashed and a large number of windows were smashed.

One member of staff suffered significant injuries when a door was kicked out by youths hitting him in the face, causing lacerations.

A fire on the roof caused significant damage, resulting in the dispatch of multiple fire brigade units, while gardaí had to bring order back to the facility.

Ms Zappone said Oberstown had experienced significant changes with the merger of three schools at the site and the construction of a €56m campus.

“A number of serious incidents and industrial action by staff at the campus have highlighted the need to reflect on the progress achieved,” she said.

She said the review was aimed at ensuring “the safety of all at Oberstown”.

Prof Kilkelly said that Oberstown was committed to the care, education, health, and needs of young people in conflict with the law.

“At the same time, the balance between the commitment to this care ethos and the need to ensure the safety of staff and the local community must be carefully struck,” she said.

Prof Kilkelly said the board believed the review was “an opportunity, not just to set the future course for Oberstown, but to significantly change youth justice in Ireland forever”.

The review will start immediately and involve multiple visits to the centre, and engagement with young people, staff and others.

A report will be delivered to the board and the minister.

Meanwhile, a new bail supervision programme for juveniles is to launch by the end of the month aimed at diverting children charged with a criminal offence away from custody.

The multi-agency scheme is being operated by Oberstown, the Probation Service, the courts, and an external organisation.

The programme, which is being run in Dublin on a pilot basis, will start with five to eight children, but could take 20 children within a year — with a view to further expansion, both in Dublin and elsewhere.

Mr Bergin said he was concerned at the “very high” number of children remanded to Oberstown — 17 on the day of the interview, compared to 27 committals.

He said those remanded to Oberstown “don’t settle in” and do not engage with services as much as those who are committed on a sentence.

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