Irish Penal Reform Trust

Progress at Oberstown

29th May 2017

On Monday 29th May 2017, an event titled ‘Building the Future’ took place in the Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin to mark Oberstown Children Detention Campus’ first anniversary as a combined care, health and educational facility. This followed on from the signing of a Ministerial Order by Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone, TD, on 30th March 2017 to end sentencing of children to adult prisons in Ireland, and the closure of St. Patrick’s Institution by Minister for Justice and Equality, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, TD, on 7th April 2017. The ending of the imprisonment of children in Ireland and the development by Oberstown management and staff of a best practice model of care on Oberstown campus signals a change in how Ireland responds to offending by young people.

The combined Annual Reports 2012-2016 were also launched. Professor Ursula Kilkelly, Chair of the Board of Management at Oberstown, acknowledged the significant challenges that were faced in the first year of the combined facility, and the external reviews in the areas of health and safety, operations and behaviour management that were carried out as a result. She outlined the Oberstown 2017 Action Plan to implement the recommendations from the reviews and to provide the best possible care for young people.

Presentations during the day centred on the work being done to develop policies and practices to secure the best outcomes for the young people at Oberstown Campus. Lena Timoney, Deputy Director, Care Services, outlined Oberstown’s ‘Journey Through Care’ from admission to preparation for leaving, incorporating care, education, health and addressing the reasons for admission. Pat Bergin, Director, Oberstown, outlined the ‘Building the Future’ priorities 2017-2020 for the young people and also for the staff.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone, TD noted that in 2004, when the first Youth Justice Review took place, there were 208 young people detained in the prison system, and 177 children remanded or sentenced to Reformatory and Industrial Schools. In the past 12 months there has been a decrease in the numbers of young people being detained at Oberstown Children Detention Campus, and on 15th May 2017, there were 29 children in Oberstown Campus (the capacity at Oberstown for boys is 48), with 22 serving a period of detention and seven were remanded in custody. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs attributes this to a change in the way youth offending is now being dealt with in Ireland. Over 100 of the Garda Diversion Projects are in operation, and the Children Act 2001 provides for the use of alternative sanctions to custody. There is an emphasis on improved release planning and supports and also an increased awareness among legislators that the detention of a child should be imposed only as a last resort. Oberstown now publishes monthly statistics on the number, age and status of young people in detention there.

There was also a display of art work by the young people at Oberstown, and Minister Zappone was presented with a portrait, painted by one of the young people at Oberstown.

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