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Alternatives to child detention under-utilised - Special Rapporteur on Child Protection

18th November 2016

Alternatives to child detention, including community-based sanctions and community service orders are being under-utilised, and children with parents in prison should have access to high-quality support services.

These are among the strong recommendations of Ireland’s Special Rapporteur on Child Protection relating to children in contact with the criminal justice system, whether as children whose parents are in prison, or as young people who have come into conflict with the law. IPRT strongly welcomes these recommendations, which are included in the Ninth Report of the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Professor Dr Geoffrey Shannon, which was published today (Friday, 18th November 2016).

IPRT particularly welcomes the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation that “high-quality support services should be in place for children with a parent in prison”. IPRT’s research has identified that children and their families are the “hidden victims” of the criminal justice system, and most often experience trauma through separation, stigma, bullying, mental health and behavioural issues, among others.

In his report, the Special Rapporteur also reaffirms that in Ireland detention of children is “always” be a last resort, and that there should be stronger focus on alternatives, including "more imaginative community service programmes" that consider the young person’s skills and interests, whilst facilitating payback to the community.

The report also emphasises the importance of giving young offenders who could face period of detention the opportunity to engage with Probation Service, and questions why few community service orders were handed down to young offenders in 2014.

In relation to the few children for whom detention is necessary, the report emphasises that the use of force including restraint of children in custodial settings should be avoided, and that the focus of staff recruitment should be on those who have experience in working with children, and preferably who come from similar backgrounds to the children detained.

Although the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection welcomes progress in the area of repeal of legislation which allows children to be detained in the Irish prison system, today there are 12 boys detained at Wheatfield Place of Detention, and legislation to finally close St Patrick's Institution has not yet been commenced.

For further comment, contact Fiona on 087-1812990

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