Young people locked up in prison cells for up to 23 hours a day

Mountjoy and Wheatfield hold largest number of young prisoners on extended lock-ups

Over 100 young adults are kept locked up in prison cells for at least 16 hours a day, official figures show.

Irish Prison Service statistics for April 2016 show nearly a third of inmates on “restricted regimes” - where daily out-of-cell time is restricted to less than five hours - were aged between 18 and 24.

Seventeen of these stayed in their cells for 23 hours a day.

Mountjoy and Wheatfield held the largest number of young adults on extended lock-ups, at 33 and 30 respectively.

A prisoner’s regime may be restricted as punishment or for protection, at their own request, but campaigners say the practice is likely to have negative psychological, emotional and physical effects.

The Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, which has highlighted the issue in a new report, yesterday urged the government to end such confinement for young adults.

The group also recommended that young prisoners be halved in number and accommodated separately to older prisoners.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone should further be assigned responsibility for prisoners aged up to the age of 24, it said.

While young adults represent 12% of the national adult population, they make up almost a quarter of those sent to prison each year, the centre pointed out.

'Hard to fathom'

Fr Peter McVerry, who visits Mountjoy and Wheatfield prisons each week, said at the launch of the report that too many young prisoners spend almost all their time locked away for fear of their own safety.

“Most young people in prison have left school early, have no qualifications or skills, often poor literacy skills, no history of employment. Indeed they have been failed by all the systems in society,” he said.

“It should be a priority to ensure that their time in prison is used constructively, by equipping them for life outside prison through educational and skills training.

"Unfortunately, for many young people, they leave prison no more equipped for life than the day they entered prison.”

Eoin Carroll of the Jesuit Centre said the April census’ finding that 17 young adults were kept in their cells for 23 hours every day was “hard to fathom”.

“Over the course of a week, that is 161 hours out of 168 locked up."