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Minister for Justice: All teenagers to be removed from St Patrick's by 2014

The Inspector of Prisons has reported incidents of forced stripping of prisoners, excessive punishment, and bullying and intimidation of young and vulnerable inmates by staff at the facility.

Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

THE MINISTER FOR Justice Alan Shatter is calling for all teenagers to be moved out of St Patrick’s Institution by 2014, after a report by the Inspector of Prisons revealed systematic violations of the human rights of the young people being held there.

The report by Judge Michael Reilly, released yesterday, found that a “culture of fear” pervaded the prison, noting the excessive and unrecorded use of force by staff against inmates. It reported incidents of forced stripping of clothes from the prisoners, excessive punishment – including denying children family visits, and bullying and intimidation of young and vulnerable inmates by a minority of staff.

The report said weak management, the culture in the prison, and the prevalence of drugs means the facility no longer provides safe, secure and humane custody. The prison currently houses young offenders aged between 17 and 21 years of age.

‘Substantial concerns’

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme this morning, the Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said he had had “very substantial concerns” about St Patrick’s and so strongly welcomed the work done by the Inspector of Prisons and the Ombudsman for Children in highlighting conditions there.

He said he had visited the facility in a ministerial capacity in 2011 but that the true circumstances of the prison had not be made visible to him at that time – which is why, he said, the investigative work of Michael Reilly was “so important”.

The Minister said that a substantial programme of reform and management structure had now been put in place and that plans to remove all teenagers from the facility by 2014 were underway.

In response to concerns raised about the possible treatment of young inmates in the interim, Shatter insisted that the culture of fear in the prison has been “brought to an end”, and that ‘the control and restraint’ measures detailed in Reilly’s report had been discontinued. About 60 per cent of staff have undergone retraining so far – with the remainder due to complete retraining by November – he added.

Shatter said investigations had begun concerning particular officers whose behaviour had been criticised in the report, and that a new procedure for complaints would be in place by 1 November.

Ombudsman for Children

The Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan, also speaking this morning, said that her concerns about the welfare of children at the institution had been routinely ignored over the years.

Logan explained that St Patrick’s had not been part of her remit until this July due to an exclusion dating back to the inception of the office. In 2009, the Ombudsman conducted a three-month review of the treatment of young people at the facility, which unearthed abuses – however Logan said the findings were ‘sneered’ at because they concerned youngsters who had been in conflict with the law.

She said the culture of intimidation perpetuated by a minority of staff at the facility, coupled with a negative attitude towards young offenders, caused reports of abuses were low.

Yesterday, Liam Herrick, the executive director of the IPRT described the finding of the report a “national disgrace”.

Read: Damning report into St Patrick’s finds forced stripping, excessive force and intimidation>

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