Reports of ‘notifiable incidents’ in Oberstown double

Management of child detention facility put the increase down to ‘better reporting’

The use of solitary confinement in Oberstown, known as “single separation”, has dropped dramatically. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

The use of solitary confinement in Oberstown, known as “single separation”, has dropped dramatically. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Reports of disciplinary incidents at the State’s only child detention facility have more than doubled in the last two years.

Since 2016 the number of “notifiable incidents” has increased from 56 in 2016 to 119. Notifiable incidents can range from fights between detainees resulting in minor injuries to “emergency incidents” which may involve a threat to life.

Oberstown says the rise in incidents is down to “more and better reporting”.

“Oberstown put a huge focus on this over the last number of years. Staff weren’t always reporting incidents in the best way and the introduction of the new case management system has improved this hugely,” a spokeswoman said.

At the same time, the use of solitary confinement in Oberstown, known as “single separation”, has dropped dramatically.

In 2018, there were 1,277 incidents of single separation being imposed on detainees in the north Co Dublin facility. This is down from 1,701 in 2017 and 3,021 in 2016.

Oberstown Children Detention Campus: This week the facility, which can accommodate 48 inmates, had 36 boys within its fences. All are aged between 15 and 17. Photograph: Eric Luke
The use of solitary confinement in Oberstown, known as “single separation”, has dropped dramatically. File photograph: Eric Luke

The rate of single separation looks set to drop further this year. It has been used only 600 times in the first eight months of 2019.

Incidents requiring “physical intervention” have increased, albeit slightly. Staff had to physically intervene with detainees 117 times in 2018, up from 87 in 2017 and 85 in 2016. Such intervention could involve restraining young people involved in a fight or forcibly removing illicit drugs from them.

Physical intervention is only used as a last resort after attempts to verbally de-escalate the situation have failed and an on-the-spot assessment has been carried out, said Oberstown deputy director Damien Hernon.

“We can usually resolve things by talking to them, by taking them aside, having a chat and giving them a minute.”

Oberstown Children Detention Campus, Lusk, Co Dublin. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times
Oberstown Children Detention Campus, Lusk, Co Dublin. File photograph: Eric Luke

Locked in their cells

Most incidents of single separation last less than three hours although there have been 77 so far this year which involved young people being locked in their cells for between 10 and 12 hours.

During the first quarter of 2019, 75 young people passed through Oberstown of which 44 were serving sentences and 31 were on remand.

Thirty-eight residents were discharged during the same period, with 28 returning to the care of their parents. Seven went onto an adult prison to finish their sentence, while three went into the care of Tusla.

Almost a third of the young people who passed through the campus had suffered the loss of at least one parent either through death, imprisonment or loss of contact.

According to other statistics released by Oberstown:

– 45 per cent of residents were 16 or younger upon admission and 96 per cent were male.

– 46 per cent had been in Oberstown before, either serving a sentence or on remand.

– 23 residents had been in care before being sent to Oberstown while another eight had significant prior involvement with Tusla.

– Two residents were parents or were expecting a child.

– 71 per cent (53) of the teens in Oberstown were considered to have a drug or alcohol problem and 41 per cent had a mental health need.