A “rigid, inflexible culture” and the persistent behaviour of a “small cohort” of prison officers has forced the authorities to scrap St Patrick’s Institution, the head of the Irish Prison Service has said.
Director general Michael Donnellan said the fact that the Inspector of Prisons found the same culture of abuse in St Patrick’s — that he identified and condemned last October during visits in March — was “not acceptable”.
Mr Donnellan said despite the injection of significant resources into St Patrick’s, including new management and outside independent investigators, they hadn’t been able to change the culture.
“Despite our best efforts the rigid, inflexible culture that exists in St Patrick’s had not changed, changed to a sufficient degree.”
He said that while the vast majority of officers were professional, which the inspector repeatedly recognises, there was a “small cohort which has let us down”.
But he said the problem was also a management and organisational one, adding it was “extremely difficult to manage closed, inflexible cultures”.
Mr Donnellan said there were a number of investigations ongoing against certain officers in the prison and that that process had to be allowed come to its “own natural conclusion”.
He rejected suggestions that the officers were immune, despite the findings of the inspector, saying people can be “absolutely assured” that the authorities were taking the matter seriously.
He said the plan was to move inmates from St Patrick’s to Wheatfield within six months.
He said 17-year-olds would be there temporarily and be held completely separate from adult prisoners.
The 18-20 year olds would have separate accommodation but would share education and training.
A spokesman for the Prison Service later said prison officers would not be “automatically transferred” from St Patrick’s to Wheatfield. He said all staff would be asked to express an interest and that the officers would be “selected” for the job.
He said that 90 historical complaints against prison officers in St Patrick’s had been re-examined, eight of which were deemed to warrant a fresh investigation, which are ongoing.
The spokesman said the Prison Service had not yet sought sanction from the Government to recruit child care workers for unit in Wheatfield.
Liam Herrick of the Irish Penal Reform Trust expressed concern at the move to an “overcrowded” Wheatfield Prison.
With a population of 618 inmates, he said it had education and training facilities for “at best” 400 inmates and wondered how the juveniles and young adults would be catered for.
The Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice welcomed the closure of St Patrick’s saying it was “long overdue”. Children’s Rights Alliance also welcomed it but said the move of 17-year-olds to Wheatfield had to be temporary.
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