Young offenders’ capacity for rehabilitation undermined by imprisonment in St Patrick’s Institution


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Joint statement ISSUED BY:
Irish Penal Reform Trust
Eddie Darcy, Catholic Youth Care
Children’s Rights Alliance
Irish Association for Young People in Care
Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice
Catherine Ghent, solicitor
Dr. Ursula Kilkelly, UCC
Fr. Peter McVerry, Peter McVerry Trust

Young offenders’ capacity for rehabilitation is being undermined by imprisonment in St Patrick’s Institution and urgent action is required to minimize the damage, states group of leading advocates for the rights of children in the Irish criminal justice system

The ongoing detention of sixteen and seventeen year olds in St Patrick’s Institution is undermining their future prospects along with Ireland’s reputation as a humane society, and the new Government must commit to all recommendations for action set out by the Ombudsman for Children in a new report, according to a group of leading advocates for the rights of children in the Irish criminal justice system.

Young People in St Patrick’s Institution reports on extensive consultations between the Ombudsman for Children with the young people imprisoned in the Victorian institution, and includes responses and commitments to action from the Irish Prison Service.

Hard-hitting and comprehensive, the report presents undeniable evidence that the State is failing to meet its international obligations to children, who may have committed offences but who are nevertheless extremely vulnerable and have a capacity for change. The inclusion of the voices of these children, who are seldom heard, is central to its importance.

While the report recognises positive work being carried out at the prison, with particular emphasis on the school facilities and positive relationships between staff and young people, it raises a number of issues which are of deep concern, including – but not limited to:

  • the failure to adequately communicate with the young people on arrival about prison rules, rights or entitlements
  • separation of children from adult prisoners is not achieved in practice; young people on protection or on special medical observation are often held in the same areas of the prison as adults
  • physical conditions, food, and access to showers are unacceptable
  • of particular concern are reports that the children are not disclosing mental health problems out of fear of being put in special observation cells

Furthermore, the discrepancies between the young people’s perceptions and the operation of certain procedures in the prison, acknowledged by both the Ombudsman for Children and the Irish Prison Service, makes clear the urgent need for the provision of an independent complaints mechanism.

Ireland must bring an end to the imprisonment of children at the earliest opportunity, but in the interim period, the Ombudsman for Children has now set out a clear blueprint for minimizing the damaging effects that a period in St Patrick’s Institution can have on these young people. The Irish Prison Service has responded to these recommendations in the document, to which it should be held to account.

Speaking on publication of the report on behalf of the group, Liam Herrick, Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust said:

“The appalling failure to end the use of St Patrick’s for detention of children is a damning indictment of this Government. We have sought clarification from Minister Andrews on a number of occasions as to the status of the Lusk Project without success. It appears that the capital allocation for the project in 2010 was not spent and that this is not now available in 2011. There is no fixed date for completion of project, there is a question over whether there are ring-fenced funds at all, and in the meantime hundreds of children continue to have the negative experience of detention in St. Patrick’s Institution, which undermines their capacity for change and rehabilitation.”

On publication of Young People in St Patrick’s Institution, we are expressing our support for all the recommendations contained therein, with emphasis on our four key calls:

1. The imprisonment of children in St. Patrick’s Institution must cease immediately and a plan put in place to allow for the gradual transfer of children from the Institution to the Children Detention Schools

2. In the interim period, all the recommendations for action set out in the Ombudsman for Children’s Young People in St Patrick’s Institution report must be acted upon at the earliest opportunity.

3. The remit of the Ombudsman for Children must be extended to allow individual complaints from children held in prison on the same basis as children detained elsewhere.

4. Child care legislation and standards that apply to the detention of children in other settings must apply to children in St. Patrick’s Institution, including those regarding health, education, child protection and the qualifications and training of staff.

1. Figures:

  • On 2nd February 2011, there were 41 boys in St Patrick’s Institution: 6 sixteen-year olds; 35 seventeen-year olds. (Source: Irish Prison Service)
  • Around 220 sixteen and seventeen year old boys pass through St. Patrick’s Institution every year. (Source: Irish Prison Service Annual Reports)
  • The Inspector of Prisons has clearly stated that “every effort should be made to expedite the transfer of these juveniles to the Oberstown Complex”. (Source: The Irish Prison Population – an examination of duties and obligations owed to prisoners, published by the Dept of Justice on 22 Oct 2010)
  • On 26th January 2011, there were 57 boys and young men on 20-22 hour lock-up (for reasons of protection) in St Patrick’s Institution. (Source: Dáil Question, 27th January 2011)

2. Young People in St Patrick’s Institution, Ombudsman for Children
and Press Release

3. National Children Detention Facility, Lusk, Co. Dublin
On 7th December 2010, then Minister for Justice and Law Reform, Minister Ahern, stated that the building of the National Children Detention Facility at Oberstown in Lusk will progress in 2011; however, no update on the expected completion date for the first phase was given. (See here for details )

However, with a 24% cut to the IYJS budget in 2011 and just €500,000 of the budget assigned to capital expenditure (down from €8.229m in 2010), we are highly concerned that the new facility at Lusk will now not progress as planned. It is unclear whether there are any ring-fenced funds for this project at all.

On 11th January 2011, a group of leading advocates for the rights of children in the Irish criminal justice system raised our concerns with Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Barry Andrews, in relation to the ongoing delays in ending the practice of detaining 16 and 17 year-old boys at St. Patrick’s Institution and requesting a clear indication as to the current status of the Lusk project. The response received offered no such clarity.

The group is made up: Irish Penal Reform Trust; Barnardos; Children’s Rights Alliance; Irish Association for Young People in Care; Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice; Catherine Ghent, solicitor; Dr. Ursula Kilkelly, UCC;  Fr. Peter McVerry, Peter McVerry Trust.

4. Detention of Children in St Patrick’s Institution – Briefing
IPRT has outlined our serious concerns about the ongoing detention of children in St Patrick’s Institution, which is in breach of human rights standards, in a short Briefing. Download here

5. Detention of Children in Ireland: International Standards and Best Practice – Report
Irish Penal Reform Trust (November 2009), ISBN: 978-0-9535531-8-1
IPRT published a report on the detention of children in Ireland in Nov 2009, focusing on international standards and best practice. This report informed the framework of key areas in the consultation carried out by the Ombudsman for Children with the young people in St Patrick’s Institution. See here.
6. Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT):
IPRT is Ireland’s leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of everyone in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy, with prison as a last resort:


3 Responses

  1. marie

    March 9, 2011 2:16 pm

    it is disgraceful that it has not already been shut down!the goverment need to close it immediately and provide steps for a more holistic way of rehabilitating young offenders. It is unbelievable that they are using 22 hour lock ups as punishment. The effect that would have on a young person is horrendous enough. Does anyone know what the Lusk Project is and where I could find information on it?
    Its scandelous that this type of service is even legal.

  2. Fíona Ní Chinnéide

    March 9, 2011 2:51 pm

    ‘Lusk’ refers to the new National Children Detention Facility which is to be built at the Oberstown campus at Lusk, Co. Dublin. (Currently there are three children detention schools on the site: Oberstown Girls School; Oberstown Boys School; Trinity House School.) When the first phase of the project is completed, boys aged 16 and 17 in St Patrick’s will be moved there. You can find out more here:

    The numbers on 20-22 hr lock up refer to those on protection (ie. not punishment) in fear for their own safety; the Inspector of Prisons has stated that about 25% of boys and young men in St Patrick’s are on protection at any time.

    It’s also worth checking out the recent (excellent) report by the Ombudsman for Children on the experiences of boys held in St Patrick’s:


    • paul

      October 17, 2012 5:36 pm

      the poor little kids they should be let out right away to go back mugging old people selling drugs robbing cars etc etc how can gov be so cruel.