Probation chief backs youth bail scheme trying to keep 'as many young people out of the custodial system'

A new bail scheme for juveniles charged with a criminal offence is trying to keep “as many young people out of the custodial system” as possible, the head of the Probation Service has said.

Vivian Geiran said he welcomed the multi-agency project, which brings together Oberstown Children’s Detention Centre, the Courts and Probation, as well as an external organisation.

As reported in the Irish Examiner on Monday, the scheme, due to start by the end of this month, will begin with five to eight children, but could expand to 20 within a year.

It will operate on a pilot basis in Dublin and, based on a review, could be rolled out to other parts of the country.

It is aimed at reducing the very high numbers of young people being held on remand in custody at Oberstown.

“What we are trying to do is keep as many young people out of the custodial system as we can,” said Mr Geiran.

He said there was always a danger with new criminal justice measures of bringing more people in than required.

“We don’t want to widen the net. This hits the right note: it’s for people who definitely would otherwise be remanded in custody.”

He said the scheme will provide a speedy multi-agency assessment and response for the courts.

Mr Geiran said the people being targeted would be known to gardaí and would probably have been in contact with probation services before.

He said the scheme was a bit of an “ideological and cultural shift” as these people have only been charged and not yet convicted.

Oberstown director Pat Bergin said he was concerned at the “very high” number of children remanded to Oberstown — 17 on the day he spoke to the Irish Examiner, compared to 27 committals.

He said most remands “don’t settle in” and do not engage with services as much as those who have been sentenced and are in Oberstown for months or years.

Meanwhile, the chair of Oberstown’s board of management said she and Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone “did not want to see” a repeat of industrial action which saw young people locked in their rooms for 19 hours on August 28-29 last.

Professor Ursula Kilkelly said the board’s appointment of two “eminent experts” to conduct an examination of the operations of Oberstown was an opportunity to “stand back and take a fresh look with a fresh pair of eyes”.

She said Barry Goldson was “Europe’s leading youth criminologist” and that Nicholas Hardwick was a former prisons inspector.

Prof Kilkelly said they will engage in a process of “engagement and reflection” as to how Oberstown was functioning.

She told Morning Ireland that this was not a paper review and the experts would be “on the floor” and engaging with staff and young people. She said there was a need to strike a balance between care for the young people and the safety and security of Oberstown, particular the staff and community in Lusk, north Dublin.

She said she “absolutely accepted” there were concerns regarding how young people were treated on the day of industrial action.

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