Damning Report on St Patrick’s Institution – how long does it take to change a failing system?

17 Oct

The Department of Justice yesterday published the Inspector of Prison’s Report on St. Patrick’s Institution. The report by Judge Michael Reilly was produced in June of this year and it has taken four months for its public release. The report criticises the ‘weak management, the culture of the prison and the inattention to human rights norms’ within the institution. The privations and abuses within the regime in St Patrick’s are described by the Inspector in the Report and summarised here:

  • Cells were dirty, needed painting and did not have adequate furniture. Many other areas were dirty, unhygienic and with broken equipment.
  • There are inadequate records relating to the detention of prisoners in the Safety Observation and Close Supervision Cells covering the period under review.
  • The exercise facilities were inadequate and there were issues with access particularly for prisoners on protection.
  • Prisoners on protection are entitled to a minimum of one hours exercise each day. In certain cases prisoners on protection do not get this minimum exercise. Weather conditions, the numbers on protection, the presence of gangs and the difficulties associated with keeping these gangs apart also means that prisoners may get limited access to the yards.
  • Prisoners on protection did not receive education
  • There were delays in medical referrals.
  • Poor liaison with child protection and welfare services.
  • Misuse of control and restraint procedures.
  • Incidents of removal of clothing from prisoners by force.
  • There was incidents of excessive and unauthorised punishment of prisoners, including denying children family visits or phone calls.
  • The Inspector also found practices of undocumented “isolation” of a number of prisoners in solitary confinement for 56 days following an incident at the prison.

The publication of the report has received a high level of coverage and a summary of the reactions to the report are produced by the IPRT here.  Liam Herrick, the Executive Director of IPRT noted the lineage of concerns regarding the regime in St Patrick’s Institution and the longstanding demands to end the use of prison for young people under the age of 18:

As far back as 1985, the Whitaker Report recommended the closing of St. Patrick’s Institution. The range of violation of the rights of inmates detailed in the Inspector of Prisons’ 2012 Report is so broad, and the problems so deep-rooted, that IPRT believes this report calls into question the viability of continuing to operate the prison.It is a completely unacceptable way to treat any prisoners, least of all young people.

The depiction of terrified boys and young men afraid to report assaults that they have suffered is chilling. That this could happen in the 21st century to children and young people anywhere is shocking. That it could happen in Ireland, with all that we know about institutional abuse and the impact it has on children, is an absolute national disgrace.“

On 2nd April, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs announced that ‘funding had been secured to end the detention of children in St. Patrick’s’.Prior to the publication of the Report ( on May, 23rd 2012) Judge Reilly briefed senior prison service officials on the ‘serious concerns’ arising from his inspection findings. However, the plans for the development of the National Child Detention facilities at Oberstown and the end of under 18’s within the prison estate  will not be fully realised until ‘mid-2014’.  Judge Reilly’s Report calls for this timeline to be revisited.

The Ombudsman for Children’s Act (2002) which established the role of the Children’s Ombudsman in Ireland, somewhat perversely excluded the Ombudsman for Children from accepting complaints from young people in St Patrick’s. In March of this year, the Ombudsman in a report to the Oireachtas formally requested a change in legislation to allow her to receive complaints from young people in St Pat’s. On 23rd June 2012 the Department of Children and Youth Affairs announced that the remit of the Ombudsman had been extended by  both the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and the Minister for Justice to cover St Patrick’s Institution (three days in advance of the submission of the Inspector’s Report to the Department of Justice).

Yesterday in response to the release of the report Frances Fitzgerald, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs commented: “I intend to examine the feasibility of accommodating some categories of the 17 year old age group before that date [mid-2014].  I have asked the Oberstown Board of Management and the Irish Youth Justice Service to keep this matter under review based on the trend of occupancy on the campus under the recent change in age categories and to report to me no later than February 2013 on this matter”

Given the slow pace of change to date despite a catalogue of concerns raised over many years the question is not just how long until St Pat’s ceases to accommodate under 18’s, but how long will it take for the serious concerns raised in this report  to be systematically addressed for the remaining population?

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