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Ministerial Order to end sentencing of children to adult prison “momentous”

30th March 2017

IPRT MEDIA ADVISORY

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) has hailed as “momentous” the signing of a Ministerial Order today (Thursday 30th March 2017) by Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone TD to end the sentencing of children to adult prison in Ireland.

IPRT also welcomes that the Minister for Justice and Equality, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald TD will commence relevant sections of the Prison Act 2015 to fully close St. Patrick’s Institution with effect from 7 April, 2017.

These are the final important steps towards ending the damaging practice of placing children in adult prisons in Ireland, which is in breach of international human rights standards. It will also see the name of St Patrick’s Institution “consigned to history” as recommended by the late Inspector of Prisons in 2012.

Responding today, IPRT Acting Executive Director, Fíona Ní Chinnéide said:

“This is a momentous day for how Ireland responds to children who offend. From midnight tonight, no child will be sentenced to adult prison in Ireland, and St Patrick’s Institution will finally be consigned to history from next week. Although this will not bring an immediate end to the detention of children in adult prisons, it does mean that the closing of one dark chapter in Ireland’s treatment of children is finally within view.

“IPRT strongly welcomes the commitments by both Minister Zappone and Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald to ending the imprisonment of children in Ireland, which have been constant and determined.

“IPRT also welcomes the work by Oberstown management and staff towards implementing a best practice model of care on Oberstown campus to facilitate this transfer of responsibilities from the adult prison system.

“For the 8 boys who will remain in Wheatfield Place of Detention, all measures must be taken to ensure that regimes align as closely as possible with the ethos of the detention school model within the constraints of a prison. In January 2017, 4 of the 8 boys then held in Wheatfield were locked up for 19 hours a day, which is particularly negative for teenagers.”

From midnight tonight here will be no new committals of children under sentence to Wheatfield Place of Detention, an adult prison. Prison is an inappropriate, damaging response to offending by children. The detention school model is focused on a model of care, education, health and programmes that address offending, with improved outcomes for the young people, their communities and all of society.

IPRT has campaigned for the end of imprisonment of children in Ireland since the organisation was founded in 1994. The detention of children in the adult prison system has been a serious stain on Ireland’s human rights record, with St Patrick’s Institution receiving particularly damning reports over several decades.

For further comment, contact Fíona on 01 8741400 or 087 181 2990

NOTES:

1. Imprisonment of children in Wheatfield Place of Detention

Today (30th March 2017) there are 8 boys aged seventeen detained under sentence in Wheatfield Place of Detention, in breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the child: http://www.irishprisons.ie/wp-content/uploads/documents_pdf/30-March-2017.pdf

2. Ending imprisonment of children in Ireland

Ending the practice of sending children to St Patrick’s Institution was a key commitment included in the Programme for Government 2011-2016. On 2nd April 2012, then Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (and current Minister for Justice and Equality) Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald TD announced that €50 million had been secured to progress the building of the new national children detention facility at Oberstown, Lusk, Co. Dublin and thereby facilitate the transfer of under-18s from the adult prison system in Ireland. The building work was completed in autumn 2014. Since March 2015, under-18s can be remanded by the Courts to Oberstown.

3. IPRT Campaign to end Imprisonment of Children in Ireland

Since 1994, IPRT has played a central role in maintaining pressure on Government to end the detention of children in the prison system in Ireland. Specific actions by IPRT are detailed here: Case Study 2: Imprisonment of Children in Ireland

Others who have been particularly critical include the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture, the Inspector of Prisons, the Ombudsman for Children, and the Special Rapporteur for Child Protection. Advocacy groups who have campaigned for reforms along with IPRT include Barnardos, EPIC and the Children's Rights Alliance.

4. Irish Penal Reform Trust (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: www.iprt.ie