One year on, is Oberstown making a difference?

The youth detention centre is celebrating a year in operation

One year on, is Oberstown making a difference?

File photo: Oberstown Detention Centre, taken 29-08-2016. Image: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews

On May 29th, Oberstown: Building the Future marked the one year anniversary since Oberstown opened as a combined care, health, and education facility and celebrated a drop in the number of young people detained there.

Serious issues remain but Director Pat Bergin told The Pat Kenny Show that he is hopeful for the future.

"We keep on going," he said, commenting on the recent incident in which three young people absconded from the prison.

Oberstown encompasses Oberstown Boy's School, Oberstown Girl's School and Trinity House, located in north County Dublin.

Since March of this year, people under the age of 18 who go before the Children's Court have been sent to the open-style facility, rather than to a prison.

Offenders as young as 12 can be sent to Oberstown - however, the youngest person Bergin has encountered during his time there was just under 14 years of age.

"There's been a number of challenges for us [...] The numbers were high, they have decreased over the past 10-15 years."

The facility has a capacity of 48 boys and six girls. At the time of writing, 28 boys were serving detention sentences at the facility. Nine boys are on remand. There are currently no girls serving sentences at Oberstown.

"The difference in the approach, first of all, is that the young people that are with us are considered children," he said.

"We have a legislative responsibility under the 2001 Care Act to ensure we provide the appropriate care for young people and that the education on site is fit for purpose."

As a result, nine of Oberstown's registered children will be sitting state examinations this year.

"That's part and parcel of the culture we have in the place," he said. "We also move in the area of offending behaviour, so we have to run specific programmes to support young people and address why they're offending.

"It's a challenge around care and control."

Ongoing challenges

Bergin pinpoints the amalgamation of different age groups within Oberstown as a significant challenge for the future.

However, he said that age is a complex factor.

"When you sit back and consider [...] A 17-year-old might be more mature, more reasonable. If you've a young person on a sentence, the general attitude of 17 year-olds would be [that] they can engage with us. Many of them just get on with the day-to-day routines.

"You may have 14-year-olds with more complex needs [...] It's not specifically around age."

Bergin is hoping to open two long term units at the facility in the near future.

How much is it costing the State?

Bergin said that recent figures concerning the cost of keeping young people at the facilities were misreported.

"For a year, you're talking about in the region €350,000 per place per year. It's absolutely expensive. We have 265 staff working on campus. It's a 24/7, 365 day service [...] It's a village."

Recently, staff went on strike at Oberstown in response to what they described as "poor safety measures". Bergin said this issue is now resolved.

"There's been a significant focus on health and safety for the staff and for young people on the campus," he said.

"The Health and Safety Officer and his team have been working diligently with staff in relation to understanding why incidents occur [...] There's been an significant reduction since last November in relation to injuries to staff.

"There will always be challenges and there will always be instances."