Call to stop imprisoning children

CHILDREN’S ombudsman Emily Logan has backed calls in a new report for an end to the locking up of children in prisons.

Ms Logan welcomed recommendations in the report that her office be given the power to investigate complaints from children held in St Patrick’s Institution.

The report by the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) said there were 241 committals of boys aged 16 and 17 to the Dublin prison in 2008.

Of these, 131 were children serving sentences, with the rest on remand awaiting trial. An additional 248 children were detained at five child detention centres in 2008.

The IPRT report, Detention of Children in Ireland, said a range of international monitoring bodies had repeatedly called for children to be removed from St Patrick’s, which also houses young men aged 18 to 21.

In 2008, the Government approved plans to move inmates aged 16 and 17 to a new National Children Detention Facility, in Lusk, north Dublin. However, this is not expected to happen until 2012.

The Government has amended legislation to allow it temporarily to detain children aged 16 and 17 in St Patrick’s until then.

In her foreword to the report, Ms Logan said: “The continued detention of boys in St Patrick’s Institution (pending the construction of the National Children Detention Facility) remains a serious concern, and is not in compliance with international human rights standards. Having visited all of the Detention Schools and St Patrick’s Institution, I am convinced that the detention of children in prisons must end.”

She added: “Of additional concern is the fact that I cannot investigate complaints from children held in St Patrick’s Institution due to an exclusion in the Ombudsman for Children Act, 2002.

“I, therefore, particularly welcome the recommendation contained in the report that supports both my own and the Committee on the Rights of the Child recommendation to extend the remit of the Ombudsman for Children’s Office to include the power to receive complaints from children so held.”

The report said drugs remained one of the “pressing problems” in St Patrick’s and said the increased security measures had resulted in a rise in “bullying and intimidation” where vulnerable inmates are “being forced into accepting drugs during visits for others”.

Dr Ursula Kilkelly, chair of the IPRT, said that a quarter of the population were on protection “fearing for their own safety”.

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