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Perspectives on child detention

15th September 2009

Sometimes we need a reality check to remind us that things don’t have to be the way that they are. In a conservative political culture like ours, the public can be far too accepting of the status quo and what is deemed to be necessary in society – be that the “need” to support the banking sector; the “need” to vote particular ways in referenda; or indeed the “need” to lock up children.

In her excellent weekly blog, Frances Crook, Director of the Howard League for Penal Reform tells a poignant story about a recent visit to a Scottish juvenile detention facility with prison administrators from Sweden and Germany. The continental guests were completely speechless at the idea of young boys being held without meaningful activity in a cramped prison environment. This could not happen in those countries, where young offenders are only ever held in constructive, activity-centred institutions.

I recall hearing the Finnish criminologist and government advisor Tapio Lappi–Seppälä speaking at a conference in the Irish Law Society a number of years ago on issue of Finnish penal policy. In response to a reference Tapio made about the treatment of young offenders in Finland, a member of the audience asked how many under-18s were currently detained under criminal law in Finland. To gasps from the audience, he said that he believed there were two.

IPRT will shortly be launching a report on international standards and best practice with regard to youth detention. That report will set out the lessons that we can learn about how to ensure that when children are detained that their human rights as children are fully respected. This report will play a key role in setting standards for the new juvenile detention facility at Lusk and we hope that it will contribute to speeding up the closure of St. Pats. However, in the midst of all of this process we need to remember that other countries that are just like us, with just the same social problems that we face, manage to deal with those issues without resorting to locking up children.

To order your copy of the youth detention report, due for publication shortly, please email Fíona at: communications@iprt.ie

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