The controversial juvenile detention centre St. Patrick's in Dublin is to close, the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has confirmed. His decision comes after the Inspector of Prisons, in his annual report, said the culture at St. Patrick's has not changed and the safety and security of young prisoners there cannot be guaranteed.
The Inspector, Judge Michael Reilly, says the Director General of the Irish Prison Service made the admission, despite measures taken to reduce the flow of contraband into St Patrick’s and the disturbances that brings. Judge Reilly also found the fundamental rights of prisoners are being breached, and best practices are not being implemented.
Acting on his recommendation, Alan Shatter has confirmed he is to close St. Patrick's, moving offenders to Osberstown as soon as possible - and hopefully before the May 2014 deadline - and housing them at Wheatfield Prison in west Dublin in the interim.
Minister Shatter made the decision after the Inspector of Prisons Annual Report for 2012 'An Assessment of the Irish Prison System by the Inspector of Prisons', was published. The Justice Minister says, until Osberstown is ready in a year, all offenders will be moved to Wheatfield prison, with 17-year-olds being accommodated in a dedicated unit there.
Newstalk Lunchtime spoke to Michael Donlan, Head of Prisons Service, who admitted that they had failed badly.
The Justice minister praised the prison service for changes it had made in improving circumstances for inmates across all Irish prisons, but conceded there is still a way to go to overcome the 'existing culture including low levels of abuse in certain prisons, overcrowding, slopping out, health issues, lack of dedicated committal areas, use of Safety Observation and Close Supervision Cells, prisoner complaints and investigations of deaths in custody'.
The Inspector called for the closure of St Patrick’s after inspections he carried out in March showed the fundamental rights of prisoners were being breached, and best practices were not being implemented.
He recommended the facility should close, with prisoners and existing staff dispersed to other institutions.
Judge Reilly wants prisoners to be transferred to Osberstown as soon as it is ready, and he's also called for legislation allowing for St. Patrick's closure to be brought forward urgently.
The Inspector wrote that 17-year-olds detained in St. Patrick’s weren't being cared for under a childcare model of detention as previously directed, since The Irish Youth Justice Service hadn't been able to provide care staff from the Children Detention Schools to work alongside prison staff.
Responding to the report, Minister Shatter said "While a significant number of improvements have been made in the Institution, including a new management team being put in place and measures to tackle the flow of drugs, it is disappointing and unacceptable to note the disturbing incidents of non-compliance with best practice and breaches of fundamental rights of prisoners identified by the Inspector".
He added "I am satisfied that the complete closure of St. Patrick’s and the dispersal of all prisoners and staff is now required. Pending the development of new facilities in Oberstown in mid 2014, for which the Minister for Children & Youth Affairs has responsibility, this will in the interim involve the transfer of all ... to Wheatfield (Prison)..."
Wheatfield Prison, where prisoners currently housed in St. Patrick's will be sent until Osberstown in ready
Staff should be transfered to other institutions within 6 months.
Prisoners will continue to be committed for a period of detention to St. Patrick’s Institution. They will be accommodated in a dedicated committal and assessment unit for up to 24 hours. From here, prisoners will be dispersed to Wheatfield Prison, where 150 young offender spaces will be provided.
Mountjoy Prison - Justice minister intends to make St. Patrick's Institution part of the Mountjoy Male Prison
The institution has more than double the amount of inter-prison assaults than Mountjoy Prison, despite it having only one-third of the population size.
Meanwhile back in May, a judge at the Children's Court told a department official that new beds for juvenile offenders needed to be opened immediately.
Judge Ann Ryan said it was not good enough for the government to carry out audits and hold committee meetings when a child who should be in detention is free in the community, perhaps to commit some awful crime.
The District Court judge was responding to reasons given by an official at the Department of Children for the lack of detention and custodial places for juvenile offenders.
Senator Jillian van Turnhout, speaking in the Seanad in October 2012 about St. Patrick's: