Young offenders rights 'ignored' - report

Shatter: Report was 'shocking'

The human rights of children and young adults at St Patrick’s Institution are being ignored or violated, a scathing report has found.

Some inmates at the young offenders institute had their clothes removed by force, while others had family visits prohibited as a form of punishment, it emerged.

The Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, also revealed investigations in the majority of prisoner complaints, including alleged assaults or serious inappropriate actions by prison officers, were flawed and incomplete.

“To say that there is a culture in St Patricks where the human rights of some prisoners are either ignored or violated is a serious statement,” said Judge Reilly.

He added that the removal of clothing by force “can only be described as degrading and a form of punishment, intimidation and abuse”.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter said the report into the facility, which holds 16- to 21-year-olds, was shocking.

“Neither I nor the Government will tolerate this type of abuse,” he said.

“I have instructed the Director General of the Irish Prison Service to ensure that everything possible is done to address these issues within the timeframes set by the Inspector if not before then.”

Tonight there are 200 young offenders in St Patrick’s, including 25 17-year-olds.

The Inspector reported that a combination of, inter alia, weak management, the culture in the prison, the inattention to human rights norms, prisoners on protection and prevalence of drugs means that St Patrick’s has not lived up to the mission statement of the Irish Prison Service.

He highlighted concerns over prison healthcare, education, the use of special cells for safety and close supervision, inadequate record keeping, the use of control and restraint techniques contrary to established guidelines and international best practice.

Elsewhere he criticised some prison staff over their interaction with prisoners, and identified a culture of bullying involving a minority of prison officers which has the potential to corrupt good officers.

The detention of children in St Patrick’s Institution will end by mid 2014, with all youngsters moved to a new detention facility at Oberstown near Lusk in Co Dublin. Since May, 16-year-olds have been sentenced to the centre.

The judge warned that the timeline should be revised.

“It is clear from my findings in this report that the detention of children in St Patricks should end as a matter of urgency,” he added.

Mr Shatter said a new prison governor and two assistants have been hired and vowed improved training for prison officers at St Patrick’s is to be introduced as a matter of urgency.

Elsewhere, a finer mesh net in the exercise yards is being considered and educational facilities will be improved along with the provision of an incentivised regimes programme in the prison.

Physical conditions and facilities generally will also be improved, he added.

“Like the Inspector, I acknowledge the difficulty in changing a culture,” Mr Shatter added.

“However, change it must and change it will.”

Children’s minister Frances Fitzgerald said the finding of the inspection was shocking and unacceptable and justifies her and the Government’s decision to end the practice of detaining 16- and 17-year-olds in St Patrick’s.

“This damning report provides yet further evidence, if ever it was needed, of the fact that accommodating children in adult prison facilities is wrong,” she added.

“As Minister for Children and Youth Affairs I was determined to end this practice and early in my Ministry I secured the funding to bring about this change.”

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