Young Travellers make up a fifth of detainees in Oberstown

Rate is double that of Travellers in adult prisons, says Irish Prison Service

A fifth of young people in custody are members of the Traveller community, double the proportion in adult prisons, new figures show.

Oberstown Children Detention Campus housed 72 boys and three girls over the course of the first three months of 2019. Of these 14 (19 per cent) were Travellers or from a Traveller background. There was a similar rate in 2018 and 2017.

By comparison, male Travellers make up about 10 per cent of the adult prison population at any one time, according to figures from the Irish Prison Service. Travellers make up about 0.6 per cent of the general population.

Young Travellers also make up a disproportionate number of children in Tusla care. And figures from Oberstown show almost a third of the young people it dealt with in the first three months of 2019 had been in Tusla care.


Difficult to reach

Campus director Pat Bergin told The Irish Times young Travellers can be a particularly difficult cohort to reach with targeted State supports, which may explain their disproportionate numbers in Oberstown.

“It is a challenge. For us it’s about understanding the cultural differences. And there are [cultural differences].”

Mr Bergin said the movement of some Travellers from place to place can make it harder to offer supports which may help young offenders avoid prison or avoid reoffending.

Young offenders often cannot take part in initiatives such as mentoring programmes or education courses due to their frequent movements, he said.

“Things like family mentoring are fine if you can nail a family down.”

Oberstown has recently consulted the Traveller representative group Pavee Point Traveller & Roma Centre on cultural awareness issues regarding young Travellers in custody. *

Of the 75 young people who passed through the facility, 28 had been charged with theft offences. Another 20 had been charged with assault while six were there on criminal damage charges.

* (3/10/2019)  This article was amended to make clear Pavee Point offers advice on cultural issues but does not partake in the rehabilitation of offenders.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times