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Staff at juvenile detention centre to take industrial action over violence

There were 100 violent incidents at Oberstown last year.

Image: Shutterstock/Alexander Raths

STAFF AT OBERSTOWN juvenile detention centre in Lusk have voted to take industrial action over fears for their safety after it emerged there were more than 100 violent incidents in the centre last year.

Care workers are exposed to the risk of violent assault on a daily basis and are “in fear for their lives”, Impact trade union official Tom Hoare said in a statement today.

According to Impact and Siptu trade unions, which represent staff at the detention centre for under-18s, about 50 of the violent incidents last year were classed as critical. Assaults on and injuries to staff members led to 65 workers taking a total of 3,005 sick days.

“That’s an appalling figure for any place of work,” Hoare told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland today. ”The main issue as far as we’re concerned is that the safety of the institution is in question.

Oberstown worked well when it was dealing with children under 16 years of age, but the legislation has changed and 16 to 18-year-olds are now being taken out of the prison system and sent to Oberstown, which is not equipped (to deal with them).

Hoare said the campus, which accommodates 48 boys and six girls, is badly designed and understaffed and there is “inadequate safety equipment and procedures to deal with the mix of vulnerable young people and violent offenders”.

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Violent incidents

He said staff have been denied personal protection and safety equipment when dealing with violent incidents.

Hoare described how one staff member was knocked unconscious after an offender kicked a door off its hinge.

“Most injuries on the staff occur from intervening in incidents among the offenders,” he said.

“We need to make sure we have the skills and the equipment. Our main concern is where the barricading of a cell is taking place, where you have to physically restrain two or three people to move them somewhere else. That’s where our major problems are arising with assaults and attacks on staff.”

Ninety-five per cent of residential care workers and night supervising staff voted to take industrial action, which will include work stoppages. Emergency cover will be provided during work stoppages, the unions said.

‘Disappointed’

Pat Bergin, campus manager at the centre, said he was disappointed with the outcome of the ballot and said safety concerns are a “high priority” for management. There are 250 workers currently employed by the centre, and a recruitment drive is underway to increase staffing levels, he said.

“Significant improvements have been made in awareness of health and safety concerns, training and remedies to specific systems and procedures,” he said in a statement.

The campus has invested in personal protection equipment as part of the new development and this includes personal alarm systems for each member of staff.

 

He said staff members have asked for body protective equipment but these measures “go against the ethos of the campus and do not adhere to best practice in the field of youth detention”.

Read: Three youths start fire while ‘trashing’ room at Dublin detention centre

Read: Teenager hospitalised after ‘vicious’ attack in child detention centre

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