St Patrick's being reformed - Shatter


A culture of bullying and fear outlined in a report on St Patrick's Institution for Young Offenders has been "brought to an end", Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has said.

The report, by the Inspector of Prisons Judge Michael Reilly, also raised concerns about cases of degradation and an intimidation by some staff in the institution “where the human rights of some prisoners, including children, are being ignored or violated”.

The report states that some teenage and young adult prisoners who could be described as “vulnerable” were being especially targeted in the Dublin jail, which houses up to 231 prisoners aged 16 to 21.

Speaking this morning, Mr Shatter said "a substantial programme of reform" had been put in place at St Patrick's and "the vast majority" of this had been implemented.

"By 2014, it is hoped to have all 17-year-olds out of St Patrick's Institution and the target date for getting also 18 to 21-year-olds out of the institution and dealing with matters within that prison very differently is also 2014," Mr Shatter told RTÉ's Morning Ireland.

Speaking earlier, Children's Ombudsman Emily Logan said she was patronised and made fun of when she reported on conditions at the institution last year.

"People at a very senior level within the Department of Justice, right up to the Secretary General, sat in front of a UN committee and told that UN committee this was about children's perception," she said. 

"That really dampened down the notion that any of these kinds of things were happening or were real because of the people that were reporting it...So, effectively, if you have young people who have been in contact with the law, we are not expected to believe what they are saying."

Judge Reilly found child prisoners were being forcibly moved to isolation cells using head and arm lock control and restraint methods, with walking never permitted for any transfer.

Once at the cells, some were forcibly stripped, at times with the clothes being cut of their backs by staff using knives and leaving injuries. This was “degrading and a form of punishment, intimidation and abuse”. Judge Reilly noted that it involved some young inmates who had been sexually or physically abused as children.

He found there was “no proper management structure” in St Patrick’s, a facility in which the drug problem was worse than in any other prison in the system and where prison gangs were rife.

He did not trust even basic record-keeping such as prisoner and teacher attendances in the prison school. He has decided to bring in his own education experts to test his belief that even the length of the school day is being significantly overestimated in official Irish Prison Service data.

Mr Shatter received the report, which he said was "quite shocking", three and a half months ago. He published it last night along with eight prison visiting committee reports.

He denied the decision to publish the report after 3½ months, and in the evening alongside a number of others, was an attempt to limit the impact of the criticisms.

"There was an action plan put in place, an implementation process which was very important because it was important not simply to publish the report but to detail the action being taken by me and by Government. There was a necessity for consultations between myself and Frances Fitzgerald which occurred," he said.

"Because unfortunately I was unwell for a period in September, the first opportunity I had to bring this to Government was a Cabinet meeting yesterday. It was originally intended, because I see someone saying there was some conspiracy involved in this, that the report would be published on the Department of Justice website by 4pm yesterday."

In the 12 months to March 31st, 2012, there were 220 cases of prisoners being forcibly removed to special observation cells.

However, only 132 of these were recorded in official paperwork and of these, Judge Reilly believed 88 were not recorded properly.

Prisoners who lodged complaints were induced or intimidated by some staff into withdrawing them or not complaining in the first instance. In the 12 months to March 31st “in no case was any complaint upheld”.

A small number of the 198 prison officers working at the jail “by their physical and other actions, intimidate and instil fear into prisoners (both children and adults) and in particular into those who could be classed as the most vulnerable”. Judge Reilly continues: “They bully prisoners. They provoke retaliation by prisoners which results in … disciplinary measures being taken.”

On a recent visit Judge Reilly found an 18-year-old in a special observation cell on “virtual 24 hour lock up” for two months.

He had suffered a recent injury to his right eye, claiming he had fallen out of bed. Judge Reilly said he did not believe him and that the teenager was in fear of staff and because of that asked that their conversation end. “This was the first time that any prisoner, in any prison, had displayed such fear in my presence,” he wrote.

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