Rise in number of young people detained in Oberstown for ‘very serious crimes’

Higher proportion detained on longer sentences for offences such as murder

Staff at Oberstown detention centre for young people are having to avail of increased supports for the “trauma” they experienced in supporting offenders sentenced for very serious crimes, including murder.

The centre’s annual report, published on Thursday, says the profile of some of the young offenders has changed in recent years, with more sentenced or remanded for longer periods and for “very serious offences including causing death.

“This requires the campus to provide specialist, offence-specific programmes and supports and to work hard to motivate young people to follow individual placement plans,” says the report.

Of the 122 young people detained last year, it says, more than a quarter (26 per cent) were from Traveller families – despite Travellers making up just 0.7 per cent of the population.


About six in 10 of the children were not engaged in full-time education prior to detention, four in 10 had a diagnosed learning disability while four in 10 had “suffered the loss of one or both parents either through death, imprisonment or no long-term contact”.

Most of the 119 boys and three girls presented with “complex needs”, with about half having a mental health need, a quarter prescribed medication for a mental health issue and about seven in 10 had substance misuse problems.

The youngest detained there was aged 13, with just one this young. A total of 13 were aged 14; some 24 were aged 15; 38 were aged 16, and the largest proportion, 46, were aged 17.

Some 18 were subject to care orders, 32 were Travellers, 74 were from Dublin and nine were born outside Ireland.

“Oberstown has seen a rise in the proportion of young people who are detained on longer sentences for very serious offences, including causing death.”

Working with those who committed the most serious crimes required intense, lengthy interventions and the provisions of specialist programmes

“It can be hard for some young people to commit fully to programmes when they know they will transfer to prison. Others make good progress addressing their offending behaviour, but there is a risk they will regress when they transfer to the adult system.

“Staff are also supported with respect to the trauma associated with more serious offences,” says the report.

Of those young people who left Oberstown last year, 83 went home; 14 to residential care; 13 went to relative or foster care while 12 transferred to the adult prison system.

“All young people attend school while they are in Oberstown and are supported to learn, to undertake state examinations and to continue vocational training,” says the report. “Educational outcomes are measured in a number of ways including improvements in literacy and numeracy and participation in state examinations, with the ultimate objective to equip young people for the future.”

In 2020 nine achieved the Junior Certificate in subjects including English, maths, geography, metalwork, materials technology (woodwork), science, environmental and social studies, visual art, and home economics, while one achieved the Leaving Certificate after taking exams in engineering, art, history, construction studies, English and maths.

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times