Emily Logan’s office published the report, having spoken with staff and former inmates from St Patrick’s Institute for Young Offenders, which holds prisoners aged between 16 and 21 years.
It found that conditions in cells could be improved, there was a lack of communication as to how the prison worked, especially when inmates first arrive, and some young people, if suffering mental health issues, might have been reluctant to speak up for fear they could be placed in a special observation cell.
A group of leading advocates for the rights of children in the Irish criminal justice system, comprising Barnardos, the Children’s Rights Alliance and legal experts, said the report “presents undeniable evidence that the state is failing children, who may have committed offences but who are nevertheless extremely vulnerable and have a capacity for change.”
The group was particularly concerned that separation of children from adult prisoners is not always achieved in practice, as young people on protection or on special medical observation are often held in the same areas of the prison as adults.
The Irish Prison Service countered what it called some of the “discrepancies” between what some inmates had said and the reality of the services offered in the facility.
But Brian Purcell of the IPS said there had been no attempt to hide anything from the OCO as it carried out the report, and stressed that improvements were being made.
Emily Logan said the Government now needed to speed up the closure of St Patrick’s. It will continue to hold offenders as young as 16 until 2014 when a new national child detention facility will open at Oberstown in Co Dublin.
Ms Logan said: “While my preference is that St Pat’s would cease to be a place of incarceration for children aged 16 and 17, I appreciate that a transition period will be required.
“I would suggest that this transition period be as short as possible and I hope that a new Government will agree to take the necessary steps to make this happen.”
The Ombudsman for Children added that her office should be allowed to receive complaints from inmates at St Pat’s, which currently does not happen.