Detention of Children in Ireland

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New report aims to inform best practice in the detention of children in conflict with the law

The Irish Penal Reform Trust has today launched a new report: Detention of Children in Ireland: International Standards and Best Practice,  outlining the legal framework, policies and practices regarding the use of custodial measures for children in Ireland and internationally.

Detention of children is usually an expensive and damaging process, and should only be used as a last resort – a principle enshrined in the Children Act 2001. However, when it is deemed necessary, Detention of Children in Ireland: International Standards and Best Practice outlines the wealth of guidance that can be used to ensure that detention has constructive benefits.

While the report details much good practice in the Children Detention Schools in Ireland, it highlights serious concerns including the continued imprisonment of children in St Patrick’s Institution, a practice which is in breach of international human rights standards.

As Dr Ursula Kilkelly, Chairperson of the Irish Penal Reform Trust says in today’s Irish Examiner:

“In 2008, 123 children were detained in the Children Detention Schools, facilities run by the Irish Youth Justice Service for children under 16 years, and the average occupancy was 46. This is a welcome decline in the number of children detained, but it is only half the story given that a further 161 children aged 16 and 17 were detained in St Patrick’s Institution, run by the Irish Prison Service. Moreover, approximately one third of all children detained were on remand.

Although most children are now separated from adults in St Patrick’s (this is required by international law), the Inspector of prisons noted in 2009 that 25% of the juvenile population are on protection, fearing for their own safety. This can involve up to 23-hours lock up, and is a very serious concern. Children in St Patrick’s have no access to an independent complaints mechanism – the remit of the Ombudsman for Children covers the Children Detention Schools but does not extend to children detained in St Patrick’s – and a change to legislation to extend the remit of the OCO to receive complaints from children in St Patrick’s is required urgently to ensure their rights are fully protected.”

The report finds that, in general, there are many areas of good practice within the Child Detention School system. Recent inspection reports by the Health Information and Quality Authority document that children feel they have good relationships with staff; that they are listened to; and their contact with families and communities outside is encouraged.

However, there are also areas in which important improvements can be made.  IPRT is very concerned about what appears to be high levels of the use of single separation in Children Detention Schools for reasons of discipline, and shortcomings in child protection procedures and staff vetting.

Again in her Irish Examiner opinion piece, Dr Ursula Kilkelly said:

“The international standards must be implemented now to ensure that the detention of all children in Ireland is rights-compliant. This is in the interests of children, their families, their communities, and wider society. Furthermore, where compliance is not achieved, the standards may be taken into account in legal action against the state.”

Detention of Children: International Standards and Best Practice was funded by the Irish Youth Foundation. The report was launched today, Monday 30th November 2009 at 3.30pm in Pearse Street Library, Dublin 2.