The Children’s Ombudsman says she has received assurances that prison staff suspected of mistreating young offenders at St Patrick’s Institution will be left behind when St Patrick’s closes and its teenage inmates move to Wheatfield Prison.
Emily Logan spent three hours visiting Wheatfield yesterday along with prison governor Patrick Kavanagh and Irish Prison Service director Michael Donnellan following the announcement that St Patrick’s will shut by the end of the year.
Among the assurances she was given were that staff currently under investigation for allegations of mistreatment would not continue to be in charge of the young offenders when they transfer to Wheatfield.
Instead, prison officers within Wheatfield who have an interest in working with young people are being invited to seek a transfer to the new intake.
“Often in the past, staff were redeployed to St Patrick’s without any particular desire to be there. It sounds basic, but getting people who actually want to work in a given area can make a big difference to the culture within an institution,” said Ms Logan.
Staff will also be given specialised training in offender rehabilitation in a link-up with the faculty of social sciences at the University of Ulster which has devised a “restorative prisons” programme.
Ms Logan said she was also satisfied with the accommodation where the young offenders would be kept and had been told the currently vacant unit would be refurbished with the two-bed cells being cleared to leave each inmate with their own cell.
In another initiative, she said Mr Kavanagh had promised to appoint special liaison officers within the staff who would act as a direct line of communication between the inmates and the ombudsman.
A 2009 inquiry by Ms Logan’s department into St Patrick’s was one of a series of highly critical reports by independent inspectors over many years that found the institution failed to provide proper care for the young offenders and on occasions breached their human rights.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter announced its closure earlier this week and Mr Donnellan said he agreed with that decision as repeated attempts to improve St Patrick’s had failed to change an ingrained culture among some staff there.
Ms Logan said concerns she had about the move to Wheatfield had been addressed by her visit there.
“I was encouraged by the attitude and the culture. To me, it’s very different to St Patrick’s.”
However, she stressed the move should still only be temporary while plans to provide a specialist young offenders centre at Oberstown were progressed.
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