The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has responded to the announcement today (Wednesday 3rd July 2013) that St. Patrick’s Institution is to be closed within six months by calling on both the Irish Youth Justice Service and the Irish Prison Service to ensure that they are in a position to provide adequate and appropriate replacement accommodation for both 17-year-old boys and 18-21 year olds as a matter of urgency.
While the reports identify progress in relation to the rebuilding programme, the introduction of High Support Units and prisoner complaints mechanisms, the reports read together express ongoing concern at: the continuing commitment to double-occupancy in the prison system, high levels of protection across the system, excessive use of discipline, and a general problem with prison culture in a number of prisons.
The most significant issue arising from these reports is the recommendation from the Inspector that St. Patrick’s be closed forthwith.
Speaking today, IPRT Executive Director Liam Herrick stated:
"The Inspector is emphatic and unequivocal in his statements that the deep-rooted problems in St Patrick’s Institution, including the mistreatment of prisoners, have not been resolved since his first report on the prison in October 2012. The decision by Government to close the prison is a strong statement that where institutions cannot meet basic human rights standards, radical action will be taken. In that respect, this decision is a powerful vindication that the Inspection system is working.
"However, today’s decision also presents major challenges in how both the Irish Youth Justice Service (IYJS) and the Irish Prison Service (IPS) respond to the need to provide alternative detention facilities for both 17 year-old boys and 18-21 year old young men who are currently housed at St. Patrick’s.
"Last year the Government committed to taking under-18s completely out of the prison system and housing them at Oberstown. Moving those boys to another prison for anything other than a very short period is not a solution. For the Irish Youth Justice Service and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, the early closure of St. Patrick’s increases the urgency of providing additional space and services at Oberstown. Recent statements by the Ombudsman for Children of her concerns about the progress of the Oberstown project are worrying in that respect.
"In relation to 18-21 year-olds, the Inspector clearly states that detention of this age group must be centred on education and training. In this respect, IPRT is concerned that Wheatfield Prison, which is currently overcrowded, does not have adequate education and training capacity for its inmates. Providing appropriate and effective services for this age group at Wheatfield will require a significant investment of resources and training of staff."
IPRT believes that meeting the needs of young adult prisoners must be a key priority in the prison system. At present, young adult offenders (18-21) are significantly overrepresented in the prison system. At the same time, there is a growing body of research showing that this cohort’s capacity to change and grow, combined with their inherent immaturity of judgment, sets them apart from older offenders. Medical, psychological, and sociological studies all show that children and young people are more amenable to rehabilitation than older adults.
IPRT, with the support of the Ireland Funds, will shortly be initiating a combined research, consultation and communications campaign which will build the case for a national ‘Transition to Adulthood Strategy’, directly leading to a reduction in the numbers of young people in detention and a reduction in re-offending by young people leaving the justice system.
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