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Prison officers: 'We can't deal with 16-year-olds - we're not child carers'

The Prison Officers Association says members need special training to deal with underage inmates – and they don’t get it.

POA general secretary John Clinton says officers need specific training to be able to deal with 16 and 17-year-old inmates.
POA general secretary John Clinton says officers need specific training to be able to deal with 16 and 17-year-old inmates.
Image: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

IRELAND’S PRISON OFFICERS have said extra specialised training should be offered to staff in facilities housing juvenile offenders – arguing that their present training is inadequate to deal with the specific circumstances of under-18s.

The annual conference of the Prison Officers Association this morning heard that recent reports on St Patrick’s Institution, the country’s predominant prison for young inmates, had complemented prison workers for their positive attitude.

However, it did not “alter the underlying problem – namely, that prison officers are not trained to do this work,” general secretary John Clinton said.

“We are not trained in the sensitive and complex area of childcare. St Patrick’s caters for 16 to 17-year-olds,” he added.

Clinton said St Patrick’s was not fit for the purpose of housing minors – and that while the association had no problem with incarcerating young people who had broken the law, extra consideration of the supports and interventions were needed.

“Many of these young people will have committed serious crimes, but they are also most likely to have other issues, such as neglect, addiction, education deficiencies and often homelessness,” Clinton said.

He added, however, that while prison officers always did their best to provide support, “we are depending very much on the personality of the individual prison officer, as there is no specific training to equip officers for this work.

“This is unfair on the prison officers and the young people,” he said.

The Government announced plans last year to phase out the detention of 16 and 17-year-olds in St Patrick’s – which houses offenders up to the age of 21 – and instead commit them to another facility in Oberstown.

Read: St Patrick’s report positive – but says violence and gangs are still a problem

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Gavan Reilly

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