Logan backs new detention facility

Tue, Apr 3, 2012, 01:00

The €50 million to be spent on the development of a new child detention centre is money “very, very well spent”, according to the Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan.

Welcoming the news that 16 and 17 year olds would, within two years, no longer be imprisoned in St Patrick’s Institution, she said her office had had concerns about sending children there for a number of years.

“A lot of the practises that exist relate to prison regimes. For instance, as a 16 or 17 year-old, if you’re sentenced in St Patrick’s, you get two family visits of 30 minutes per week. So a lot of the practises, while they may be suitable for a prison regime, are wholly unsuitable for children.”

Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald announced on Monday that a new €50 million child detention centre would be built alongside the child detention school at Oberstown in north county Dublin, obviating any need to sentence children to St Patrick’s Institution.

Speaking on RTÉ radio this morning, Ms Logan described other worries about child-welfare in St Patricks’ Institution.

“[There were] concerns about children’s willingness to complain or to make a concern known because of the regime and the ramifications of doing that.”

Children given custodial sentences would still be ’punished’ by being sent to Oberstown.

“What we’re looking at now is a change in environment. Remember the State’s action to deprive someone of their liberty is a punishment so the move to Oberstown does not change that. They will still be deprived of their liberty.”

It was in the young people’s and their communities’ interests that they not be detained alongside adult criminals.

“Our aim is to ultimately reintegrate these children back into society.”

There had been discussion during the early 2000s that the age at which children could be detained in St Patrick’s could be reduced to 14 or 15 years, she said.

“So we’ve been throwing money at the notion of locking children up for many, many years. This is an entirely different orientation. This is €50 million over a three-year period and the orientation is a therapeutic environment.

“Children are going to be looked after in terms of their physical and mental health and they are also going to be educated which really contributes to the notion of them being reintegrated into society.

“So my view is that it is money very, very well spent. If we didn’t do this these children would end up in St Patrick's and end up being adult criminals.

Recidivism rates of between 40 and 80 per cent for young people leaving Oberstown were not surprising, she said.

“If you look at the research on children who are in conflict with the law in Ireland, it shows some common themes. One is that they are children who come from unsettled homes. They are typically early school leavers. They have mental health problems.

“They are known to the State for years. So the message here is about early intervention and prevention. We need to look at supporting families and early intervention. This is the result of inaction by the State for many, many years.”