Prison report urges Zappone to take on more responsibility

Many young prisoners suffer severe bullying in residential institutions – Fr Peter McVerry

Social justice campaigner Fr Peter McVerry: said that “young offenders in the 18-24 age group have more in common with adolescents than adults”. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Social justice campaigner Fr Peter McVerry: said that “young offenders in the 18-24 age group have more in common with adolescents than adults”. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Responsibility for prisoners aged 18-24 should be transferred to Minister for Children Katherine Zappone, said social justice campaigner Fr Peter McVerry.

Many young prisoners had suffered severe bullying in residential institutions for young offenders, he said, and “we’re just punishing them twice”.

He was speaking in Dublin at the launch of Developing Inside: Transforming Prison for Young Adults, a report by the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice (JCFJ).

It calls for the transfer of responsibility for young adult prisoners to Ms Zappone’s department and also recommended the number of young adult prisoners be halved and that they be accommodated separately to older prisoners.

Though 18-24-year-olds make up 12 per cent of the general population, they comprise almost a quarter (24 per cent) of those sent to prison each year.

In November last, 767 of Ireland’s 3,755 prison population were young adults.

Eoin Carroll, advocacy officer for the JCFJ, said that how, “out of fear for their own safety, 100 plus young adults are spending as much as 23 hours a day in their cell.” This “severe confinement” must end, he said.

Launching the report, disability campaigner and UCC criminology student Joanne O’Riordan, said it was “shocking to learn that people in prison, my age, spend so much time locked in their cell”.

Fr McVerry, who visits Mountjoy and Wheatfield prisons every week, said that “young offenders in the 18-24 age group have more in common with adolescents than adults”.

He said the “vast majority” – put at 95 per cent – grew out of crime in their mid-to-late 20s.

“As their negative peer group reduces” they form relationships and have children, he added.

The evidence was “that going to prison increases the likelihood of further criminality”.