A REPORT BY the Inspector of Prisons has found systematic violation of the human rights of the teenagers and young people being held in St Patrick’s Institution in Dublin.
Judge Michael Reilly found excessive and unrecorded use of force by staff against prisoners, forced stripping of clothes from the prisoners, excessive punishment, including denying children family visits, and bullying and intimidation of young and vulnerable inmates by some staff.
The report says that weak management, the culture in the prison, the prevalence of drugs and the culture in the prison means it no longer provides safe, secure and humane custody.
The Irish Penal Reform Trust said the problems within the institution are so ingrained that it is may not be viable to keep it open.
“The depiction of terrified boys and young men afraid to report assaults that they have suffered is chilling,” said Liam Herrick, the executive director of the IPRT.
That this could happen in the 21st century to children and young people anywhere is shocking. That it could happen in Ireland, with all that we know about institutional abuse and the impact it has on children, is an absolute national disgrace.
Judge Michael Reilly made a number of unannounced visits to St Patrick’s over a period of months to compile the report. He also spoke with inmates, prison officers, and many people with an interest and knowledge of the institution. He has in the past issued a number of warnings about the conditions there.
Judge Reilly criticised the condition the prisoners are held in:
On many of my visits to the prison many of the cells were dirty, needed painting and did not have adequate furniture. Many other areas were dirty, unhygenic and with broken equipment. On a number of my visits cells in the Unit were cold. Some had broken windows. I recorded temperatures of 16 degrees Celsius.
The report states that of the 28 complaints made by prisoners over the course of one year – 13 related to alleged assaults by prison officers – the investigations carried out by prison authorities were “flawed… incomplete and could not be said to accord with best practice”.
In a significant number of cases, having made a complaint, prisoners then signed a form stating that they did not wish to proceed further with the complaint. I am satisfied from my investigations that threats are made to prisoners and inducements are offered in order that they would not make complaints in the first instance or, if having made them, in order that such complaints would be withdrawn.
The report notes that of the four yards available for exercise, one has been taken out of commission because of the quantity of drugs and contraband being thrown into the yard from outside the prison.
Almost 70 per cent of all prisoners have used illegal substances before coming into St Patrick’s, most often alcohol, benzodiazepines and hash.
Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said the report was “quite shocking”.
“Neither I nor the Government will tolerate this type of abuse,” he said. “I have instructed the Director General of the Irish Prison Service to ensure that everything possible is done to address these issues within the timeframes set by the Inspector, if not before then”.
The institution has been repeatedly criticised since 1985 when TK Whitaker, the then-head of a committee of enquiry into the penal system, recommended that it should be closed as soon as possible.
Just over 200 prisoners are currently held in St Patrick’s, all of whom are between the ages of 16 and 21. The Government has said it will move all 16 and 17 years olds out of the prison over the next two years.
Judge Michael Reilly said that the government’s plan to end the detention of children aged 16 and 17 in the institution by May 2014 needs to be revisited and needs to be implemented “as a matter of urgency”.
The prison has been strongly criticised by the UN Committee against Torture in the past, as well as the UN Commitee on the Rights of the Child, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights and the European Commitee on Social Rights.