Concerns of children's watchdog 'sneered at'

 

OMBUDSMAN FOR Children Emily Logan said she was sneered at and patronised by senior civil servants in the Department of Justice when she raised her concerns about St Patrick’s Institution for Young Offenders, Dublin.

“People were sneering at the outcome of that report,” she said of her findings of visits to the facility last year. “I was patronised somewhat and made fun of, if you like, and made to feel that I was a bit naive in thinking that what the young people were saying was true. I was very disappointed that people at a very senior level in the Department of Justice, right up to secretary general, sat in front of a UN committee and told that UN committee that this was about children’s perception.

“So, effectively, young people who have been in conflict with the law, we’re not expected to believe what they are saying.”

She made her comments following the publication of a report by Inspector of Prisons Michael Reilly in which a culture of control and the physical and mental abuse of some prisoners by a small number of staff in St Patrick’s were exposed.

Ms Logan said there were clear similarities between how people were treated when they spoke out decades ago about being sexually abused by the clergy, and those young offenders who complained in the present day about being abused and mistreated in jails.

“This is a modern-day Ryan,” she said in reference to the Ryan report into abuses at institutions run by 18 Catholic religious congregations.

Mr Reilly’s report outlined abuses including the overuse of control and restraint mechanisms, isolation cells and 23-hour lock-up, as well as the forced stripping of prisoners by staff who at times cut their clothes off.

Prisoners were deliberately provoked into behaviour that would attract punishment and the vulnerable prisoners were especially targeted in that way. The human rights of some prisoners, including children, were “ignored or violated”.

Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said the majority of staff at the north Dublin facility had undergone retraining and the remainder would do so in the weeks ahead. He said there were investigations under way into some staff at the prison.

A spokesman for the Irish Prison Service confirmed there were “codes of discipline” cases being pursued against some staff.

The director general of the service, Michael Donnellan, said about 80 per cent of the recommendations in Mr Reilly’s report had been implemented.

However, the report reflected a culture with an overemphasis on control and security. “There’s no doubt it’s been shocking. There is an awful lot to put right.”

Asked how he felt when he heard some of the detail of the report, he said: “Totally embarrassed, ashamed.”

He pointed out that Mr Reilly’s main criticisms were around poor management rather than of prison officers, the vast majority of whom, the report concluded, did a professional job.

The executive director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, Liam Herrick, said staff found to have mistreated prisoners needed to be identified and removed. The detention of under-18s needed to end much sooner than 2014 as set out by Mr Shatter.

Prison chaplains in the Archdiocese of Dublin said the issues raised were very worrying. Their experience of the Irish Prison Service had taught them not to be optimistic that the regime will now change.

The secretary general of the Irish Prison Officers Association, John Clinton, said his organisation would not stand behind the abuse of prisoners but added his members needed specific training in how to deal with young offenders.