Dáil debates

Monday, 14 December 2015

Prisons Bill 2015 [Seanad]: Second Stage


1:15 pm

Photo of Ann PhelanAnn Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am pleased to present the Prisons Bill 2015 to the House on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality who has been unavoidably detained on other important business. The main purpose of the Bill is to facilitate the complete closing of St. Patrick's Institution. The Bill will repeal statutory provisions that enable the courts to order the detention of offenders under the age of 21 years in St. Patrick's Institution and also delete references to St. Patrick's Institution from the Statute Book.

St Patrick's Institution was originally established in Clonmel early in the last century as a borstal institution for young male offenders. It was transferred to its current site adjacent to Mountjoy Prison in 1956. The Criminal Justice Act 1960 which gave St. Patrick's Institution its statutory title made provision for the sentencing of

offenders aged 16 to 20 years to detention in that institution.

The detention of children in St Patrick's Institution has been the subject of consistent criticism for many years. The report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Penal System under the chairmanship of Dr. T. K. Whitaker in 1985 noted that "the dominant features of St. Patrick's for the majority of those contained there are boredom and demoralisation". The report recommended the closing of St. Patrick's Institution as soon as possible, stating:

Rehabilitation is not possible where the physical and environmental conditions are such as to nullify any personal developmental programmes. The facilities and services which a human and morally acceptable detention centre should provide for juveniles could not be provided even in a renovated St. Patrick's.

The former Inspector of Prisons, Mr. Justice Dermot Kinlen, in his annual report for 2004 and 2005 described St. Patrick's Institution as a "finishing school for bullying and developing criminal skills".

The detention of children in St. Patrick's Institution has been criticised by the Ombudsman for Children, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the European Committee of Social Rights and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. In addition, organisations such as the Irish Penal Reform Trust and the Children's Rights Alliance have called for the detention of children in St Patrick's Institution to be ended.

The programme for Government 2011 to 2016 included a commitment to end the practice of sending children to St. Patrick's Institution. Very significant progress has been made by the Government in fulfilling the programme for Government commitment. Responsibility for 16-year-old males remanded in custody or sentenced to detention was transferred from the Irish Prison Service to the children detention schools at Oberstown in May 2012. The €56 million development of national children detention facilities at Oberstown is almost complete. This development will increase the number of children detention places available on the campus to enable the transfer of responsibility for all children remanded in custody or sentenced to detention from the Irish Prison Service to the children detention schools.

In 2012 the Inspector of Prisons, Mr. Justice Michael Reilly, presented an inspection report on St. Patrick's Institution which raised serious issues and concerns. The inspector reported that a combination of, among other things, weak management, the culture in the prison, inattention to human rights norms, prisoners on protection and the prevalence of drugs meant that St. Patrick's Institution had not lived up to the mission statement of the Irish Prison Service. He concluded that there was a culture in St. Patrick's Institution that resulted in the human rights of some prisoners, children and young adults, being either ignored or violated.

In his annual report for 2012 the Inspector of Prisons acknowledged the efforts made by prison management to deal with the issues previously identified at St. Patrick's Institution and the improvements made. However, in follow-up inspections undertaken in March 2013 he found disturbing incidents of non-compliance with best practice and breaches of the fundamental rights of prisoners. He reported that, despite the best efforts of management, the culture in St. Patrick's Institution had not changed and that the safe and secure custody of young offenders detained there could no longer be guaranteed. He recommended that the facility be closed, that prisoners be dispersed to other institutions, that existing staff be dispersed likewise and that the name St. Patrick's Institution be consigned to history. In line with the recommendations made by the Inspector of Prisons and in order to effect the changes necessary in the regime and culture and ensure safe and secure custody, the Government decided in July 2013 to close St. Patrick's Institution completely.

As an interim step, arrangements were made for sentenced 17-year-old males to be transferred, shortly after committal to St. Patrick's Institution, to a dedicated unit in Wheatfield Place of Detention. This is an interim measure until they can be accommodated in the new children detention facilities at Oberstown. Males aged 18 to 20 years sentenced to detention are detained in a separate unit at Wheatfield. Subsequently, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs made the necessary orders under the Children Act 2001 to transfer responsibility for newly remanded 17-year-old males to Oberstown from 30 March 2015. However, for legal reasons, it has been necessary to retain St. Patrick's Institution on a contingency basis for remands awaiting places in Oberstown. The courts have on occasion remanded 16 and 17-year-olds to St. Patrick's Institution for short periods until places in Oberstown become available. These children cannot be transferred to Wheatfield because section 88 of the Children Act 2001 which provides for the remand of children in custody does not permit the transfer of remanded children from St. Patrick's Institution to a place of detention.

The Children (Amendment) Act 2015, for which the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs is responsible, was passed earlier this year. When operational, the Act will enable the full transfer of responsibility for children in detention to the children detention schools. The Act provides for the repeal of all legislative provisions which permit the detention of children in adult prison facilities. The relevant provisions of the Children (Amendment) Act cannot be commenced until Oberstown is ready to receive sentenced persons aged 17 years. This will not be possible until sufficient additional staff have been recruited. While the Irish Youth Justice Service has experienced difficulty with recruitment, the necessary staff are expected to be in place early in 2016.

Two partial closing orders under section 2 of the Prisons Act 1933 have been made in relation to St. Patrick's Institution. However, it will be necessary for the Prisons Bill to be enacted before St. Patrick's Institution can be completely closed. When closed, the intention is that the St. Patrick's Institution buildings will be designated as part of Mountjoy Male Prison. The Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs will give particular attention to the need to co-ordinate the commencement of the relevant provisions of the Children (Amendment) Act 2015 and the Prisons Bill, when enacted.

Part 1 of the Bill contains standard preliminary and general provisions. Section 3 provides for the repeal of certain enactments relating to St. Patrick's Institution. The provisions to be repealed mostly relate to court powers to commit offenders under the age of 21 years to detention in St. Patrick's Institution. These repeals will have the effect of ending the separate categorisation of males aged 18 to 20 years for the purposes of sentencing. Where a custodial sentence is imposed on such a person, he will be committed to his local committal prison and can subsequently be transferred onwards, where appropriate, to another prison or place of detention. The section also contains a transitional provision to ensure the continued lawfulness of the detention of persons previously sentenced to detention under the repealed provisions.

Part 2 of the Bill will enable St. Patrick’s Institution to be completely closed. The main provision in this Part is section 6 which provides for the complete closing of St. Patrick's Institution by ministerial order. The section also contains transitional provisions to deal with warrants for the committal or remand of persons to St. Patrick's Institution which remain unexecuted on the date St. Patrick's Institution is closed. The section provides that, following the closing of St. Patrick's Institution, any outstanding warrant that refers to St. Patrick's Institution as the place of committal or remand can be executed in a specified prison. In addition, provision is made for persons on temporary release from St. Patrick's Institution on the date of its closing.

Part 3 of the Bill provides for the removal of references to St. Patrick's Institution from the Statute Book. These provisions, contained in sections 7 to 22, inclusive, are technical drafting amendments which are consequential on the closing of St. Patrick's Institution and do not otherwise affect the provisions concerned. It is proposed to retain the references to St. Patrick's Institution in a small number of legislative provisions in order to avoid unintended consequences for the operation of these provisions.

Part 4 of the Bill deals with issues that have emerged regarding the closing of prisons. The transfer of detainees aged 17 years and in the 18 to 20 year age group out of St. Patrick's Institution required Wheatfield Prison to be closed as a prison and reopened as a place of detention. However, the existence of unexecuted warrants directing the committal of persons specifically to Wheatfield Prison meant that it could not be completely closed as a prison. An interim solution was implemented to deal with this issue. Wheatfield Prison was closed, with the exception of the gatehouse, which, in law, remains open as a prison. This means that persons can be brought there on foot of committal warrants which specify Wheatfield Prison before being immediately transferred elsewhere in the prison system. The main part of Wheatfield Prison that was closed was reopened as Wheatfield Place of Detention.

Section 23 will amend section 2 of the Prisons Act 1933 which provides that the Minister for Justice and Equality may make a closing order directing the closing of a prison or part of a prison. The amendments have two purposes. The first is to provide that, following the closing of a prison, any outstanding warrant that refers to that prison as the place of committal can be executed in another specified prison. The second purpose is to address the situation of persons on temporary release from a prison which has been closed. The amendments will deal with the current situation at Wheatfield and also any future prison closure.

We are all aware that the path from St. Patrick's Institution to Mountjoy Prison has been too well worn during the years. We must interrupt the predictable path of violence, crime and repeat offending which progresses to further serious offending and committals in adult prisons. The Government's unprecedented programme of reform in closing St. Patrick’s Institution and developing national children detention facilities at Oberstown will allow young people who are sentenced to detention to be placed in a secure environment that will offer them a better chance, in the words of the Children Act 2001, “to take their place in the community as persons who observe the law and are capable of making a positive and productive contribution to society". It is now a matter of when, not if, there will be a final end to the practice of detaining children in adult prison facilities. I hope the Prisons Bill will be passed by the Dáil and the Seanad quickly in order that St. Patrick's Institution will finally be consigned to history at the earliest possible date. I commend the Bill to the House.

1:30 pm

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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Fianna Fáil supports this Bill, the main purpose of which is to facilitate the long overdue complete closing of St. Patrick's Institution. In July 2013, the then Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, said St. Patrick's Institution was to be closed down and all prisoners moved to different institutions within six months. Subsequently, in September 2014, the Children's Ombudsman, Ms Emily Logan, referred to the closure as an unfinished project with eight vulnerable boys remaining at the facility.

St. Patrick's Institution for young offenders finally closed its doors on 30 March this year. Its closure had been recommended for decades. In 1985, the Committee of Inquiry into the Penal System recommended the closing of St. Patrick's as soon as possible.

In 2012, am inspection report by the Inspector of Prisons on St. Patrick's Institution said that a combination of, inter alia, weak management, the culture in the prison, the inattention to human rights norms, prisoners on protection, and the prevalence of drugs meant that St. Patrick's has not lived up to the mission statement of the Irish Prison Service. The inspector's report stated:

To say there is a culture in St. Patrick's where the human rights of some prisoners are either ignored or violated is a serious statement. Individual instances, where the rights of prisoners appear to have been ignored or violated, may not indicate a culture. However, when the number of instances, found by me and outlined in this chapter, are taken together the cumulative effect can only lead to the conclusion that there is a culture in St. Patrick's which results in the human rights of some prisoners - children and young adults - being either ignored or violated.

The inspector also said that this was not to be taken as an indictment of the vast majority of officers who, in the course of their work, show respect to and an understanding of the prisoners in their care. They act in a professional manner when at times circumstances can be very challenging.

Subsequently, in 2012, in his annual report the Inspector of Prisons said, "I am satisfied that, despite the undoubted efforts of management the culture referred to by me in my St. Patrick's report has not changed". He also said he was "satisfied that the Irish Prison Service can no longer guarantee the safe and secure custody of young offenders detained in St. Patrick's Institution". He went on to make the following four recommendations: first, that St. Patrick's Institution should be closed forthwith; second, that prisoners should be dispersed to other institutions where they could be guaranteed safe and secure custody; third, that existing staff in St. Patrick's Institution should be dispersed to other institutions; and fourth, that the name, St. Patrick's Institution, should be consigned to history.

St. Patrick's Institution was established in 1904 in Clonmel. It moved to the present site in 1956. In 2012, it was catering for males aged between 16 and 21 years. In reality it was two separate entities: a B division for children aged 16 and 17 years; and C and D divisions for adults aged 18 to 21 years. Another area known as "the unit" catered for one section of prisoners who, because of the nature of their particular crimes, cannot be accommodated with other prisoners. The unit catered for both children and adult prisoners.

The Fianna Fáil spokesperson on children, Deputy Robert Troy, has said that the severity and graphic nature of the report into St. Patrick's Institution must be treated with the utmost seriousness. He commented that:

The detention of 17-year-olds at St. Patrick's should cease immediately and they should be transferred to Oberstown or other appropriate rehabilitation facilities. The focus must shift from simple punishment to rehabilitation ... We can no longer wait for the May 2014 deadline. The report into St. Patrick's Institution has called for a review of this timeline and I will support any initiative Minister Shatter or Minister Fitzgerald seek to put in place to provide an appropriate setting for these vulnerable young people. No child should ever be detained at St. Patrick's again. This is the first time a report has identified that the human rights of young people were being seriously violated by the conditions at St. Patrick's Institution ... I think it is important to remember that these are children first and young offenders second. Of course, where criminal offences take place, the appropriate sanction must be applied but we must have a system in place that will rehabilitate young people back into society, and one that is not simply focussed on detention. It is clear from the Inspector of Prisons' report that far from rehabilitating offenders, St. Patrick's Institution has hardened many prisoners and allowed drug abuse to foster in a completely unsuitable environment for children. I want to commend the Inspector of Prisons for his report. His dogged and determined efforts to get to the bottom of what has really been going on at St. Patrick's Institution shows a great commitment to public service and the welfare and right of children.

As regards young offenders' rehabilitation, earlier this year Fianna Fáil supported the passage of the Children (Amendment) Bill 2015, the main purpose of which was to enable the amalgamation of the three children's detention schools in Oberstown, Lusk, Co. Dublin and to provide for the necessary legal changes required to end the detention of children in adult detention facilities.

Rehabilitation must be a paramount consideration in the detention of young people. Oberstown is the most appropriate environment for the small number of young people for whom detention is necessary. Nevertheless, it is vital to ensure that the detention or imprisonment of a child, whether on remand or under sentence, is only ever used as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time, as required by the Children Act 2001.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust, IPRT, along with the Ombudsman for Children, the Children's Rights Alliance, Empowering People in Care or EPIC, and many other youth justice advocates, are concerned about the over use of detention of children for welfare reasons. Children in the detention school system will often have had an experience of the care system, with many under HSE care at the time of their committal, and some coming directly into the detention system from secure care. This group is among the most vulnerable group of children in Ireland. Many of the traumatic factors which led to the children being taken into care in the first place are also at the root of their offending behaviour.

The children's detention schools system invests its resources into addressing these challenges, and what can be the extremely challenging behaviour of these young people. We have a duty to support these young people leaving detention in their efforts to desist from offending behaviour, through the provision of aftercare, safe housing and support, and to ensure they do not return to the chaotic conditions which gave rise to their offending behaviour in the first instance. It could change their lives and, in turn, lead to safer communities for everybody. In accordance with international human rights standards, and particularly in line with the provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, custody for children should only be used as a last resort and for the minimum required period of time. International law stipulates that all efforts should be made to apply alternatives to detention to ensure that any such measure is only used in exceptional circumstances.

Earlier this year the Irish Penal Reform Trust called for more support for young adult offenders. It said that the Department of Justice and Equality should develop a strategy to deal specifically with young adults aged 18 to 24 years within the criminal justice system. The trust called for measures to support young offenders who are what it described as being "on a transitional journey from childhood into adulthood".

A report entitled The Turnaround Youth: Young Adults (aged 18-24) in the Criminal Justice System shows that human brain and maturity continue to develop into the mid-20s, which means that young adults are particularly vulnerable to peer pressure. The report also found that socioeconomic factors such as unemployment, not being in education and living in a disadvantaged area led to young adults becoming substance-dependent and at a greater risk of offending.

According to Ms Deirdre Malone, executive director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, "The current justice system has created a cliff face off which you fall within months of your 18th birthday. We're relying on the most expensive and the least effective way of reducing re-offending - and it doesn't make economic sense or social sense". The IPRT found that in Ireland, "once a person reaches 18 years, they are no longer treated as a child but become immediately answerable to the laws and regulations that govern the adult population, regardless of their level of maturity or vulnerability".

Prison should only be a sanction of last resort for young adults, particularly those convicted of non-violent offences, the report says. While only 9% of the population is aged 18 to 24 years, this age group makes up 24% of the numbers in Irish prisons according to data from the Central Statistics Office. A recent study from the Irish Prison Service also found that 68% of people aged 21 to 25 years of age re-offended after release, compared to 53% of the rest of the population.

I will now refer to the problems experienced at the Oberstown facility earlier this year.

Four persons, aged 15 and 16 years, fled the facility on 25 July. This was the third group of teenagers to break out of the north Dublin facility. The escape was a sharp reminder of the need to address the serious security issues at the facility.

The Oberstown centre, near Lusk in north County Dublin, has undergone a €56 million redevelopment recently and taken in children who were detained in the St. Patrick's youth wing in Mountjoy Prison. Before then the Oberstown centre held around 35 children, aged between 12 and 17 years. Workers have complained that they are under-resourced and understaffed owing to a high number of staff going on sick leave following assaults by children detained at the centre. Since March, 31 staff have had periods off work as a result of injury caused by assault, in restraining detainees or by accident. Morale is low and, according to media reports, highly critical Health Information and Quality Authority reports have done little to boost confidence.

Between March and July this year, according to a report submitted by staff to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children, nine female and 22 male staff suffered injuries that included concussion, nerve damage, throat injury due to strangulation, muscle and ligament damage, stabbings, bites and having hair pulled out at the roots. The staff say the crisis inside the centre was precipitated by bad planning and management of the programme to transfer young offenders from the St. Patrick's youth wing in the Mountjoy Prison complex to Oberstown in the past two years. Staff considered taking industrial action in the face of the lack of Government action to address the problems at Oberstown.

Oberstown is not purely a custodial setting. There are education and therapeutic services, as well as access to psychiatric services. The aim is very much to attempt to change the course of a young person's life and such a setting is the only one suitable for offenders under 18 years.

A HIQA inspection that took place in October indicated improvements in some areas of concern such as restriction of the use of single separation, but significant deficits remain in other areas. However, there is still huge mistrust of management by staff at the facility. Staff appear to be overburdened and simply do not have time to build personal relationships of trust with the children in their care. According to the report, morale at the facility is still very low. It is clear that many of the staff remain distressed after the terrible stabbing incident which took place during the summer and which could potentially have been fatal. There is a lack of trust by staff in risk management and many still feel the health, safety and well-being of workers at the facility are not being regarded sufficiently by senior management.

Over the summer we urged the Minister, Deputy James Reilly, to intervene to ensure staff would receive more training to deal with the violent behaviour of some of the older, newer inmates who had been transferred from St. Patrick's Institution. It is imperative that Minister act on the recommendations made in the report and engage with staff concerns to facilitate management reforms at the facility. We are happy, however, to support the legislation.

1:40 pm

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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Sinn Féin, obviously, supports the Bill. As previously stated, the main purpose of the legislation is to facilitate the complete closure of St. Patrick’s Institution. It repeals statutory provisions that enable the courts to order the detention of offenders under the age of 21 years in St. Patrick’s Institution and deletes references to “St. Patrick’s Institution” from the Statute Book.

In part, the Bill has its origins in a commitment given in the programme for Government to end the practice of sending children to St. Patrick’s Institution. For decades non-governmental organisations, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the Irish Penal Reform Trust and a number of international organisations, including the United Nations, have been calling for the closure of St. Patrick’s Institution and an end to the detention of children in adult prisons.

Across the child protection and criminal justice spectrum there is unanimous agreement on the importance and significance of ending the practice of detaining children in adult prisons. For example, the Irish Penal Reform Trust has repeatedly pointed out that adult prisons are completely unsuitable in meeting the particular needs of young offenders. This sentiment was echoed by the new Ombudsman for Children, Dr. Niall Muldoon, who stated rehabilitation must be a paramount consideration in the detention of young people.

The closure of St. Patrick’s Institution and the building of six new buildings, each with the capacity to house between eight and ten children, are positive steps. Again, the Ombudsman for Children and the Irish Penal Reform Trust agree that the Oberstown centre is the most appropriate environment for the small number of young people for whom detention is necessary. However, both entities have also expressed concern at the findings of a report by HIQA published on 23 February on two inspections it had carried out in the Oberstown centre in October and November 2014. Of a total of ten standards, HIQA found that the children detention schools met just one, that of education, in full. Six standards were found to require improvement, while the failure to meet three standards was found by HIQA to present a significant risk. These were in the areas of single separation, the management of medication and staffing and training issues. The isolation of any child or young person from his or her peers can be damaging and the standards are clear that isolation must only be used sparingly and for the minimum, appropriate period of time.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust is particularly concerned at reports that single separation was used owing to staff shortages. Concerns about insufficient staffing, staff training and high levels of staff absenteeism are also detailed in the inspection report. In a 12-month period more than 700 cases of single separation were recorded at Oberstown, with one child spending more than 83 hours in isolation over a four-day period.

It has been proved that in areas where there are supports for minors who are exposed to violence or trouble in their communities, these supports significantly reduce the number of children who get into trouble with the law. We must start to discuss the issue of early intervention and prevention. We must create a system which will be humane and progressive - a rehabilitation process which will encourage all children to reach their full potential rather than a system which will impact negatively on future generations for life.

On prisons, it is worth reminding ourselves that the State’s reputation is justly criticised as being embarrassing. The Government should be embarrassed. Ireland is one of only four European countries not to have ratified the United Nations' anti-torture protocol. Professor Malcolm Evans whose work focuses on preventing torture and degrading treatment has expressed frustration that the Government has repeatedly promised but failed to ratify a system of independent, international inspections. At the last universal periodic review of the human rights records of all 193 UN member states in 2011 he said Ireland’s failure to sign the United Nations' anti-torture protocol was openly criticised, even by some countries with, historically, very poor human rights records. He said some would reach the conclusion that the justice authorities in Ireland had an issue with transparency and accountability. The protocol provides for UN and national bodies to make unannounced visits to all places of detention, including prisons, police stations and psychiatric hospitals, and report on what they find. The bodies have the power to examine the facilities and interview staff and detainees in confidence as part of the inspection process. Sinn Féin recommends expedited ratification of the protocol.

It is a well accepted maxim that a society is best judged by its treatment of prisoners. In Ireland the issue of prison conditions has a special resonance associated with colonial rule and the legacy of conflict over centuries. Prisons were sites of execution, torture and ill-treatment of many thousands of political prisoners and inhumane warehouses for the destitute in an unjust and unequal society. Fundamental prison reform is a priority for my party and should be for all republicans. It is crucial that prisoners and children in the care of the State are not failed, as they have been for too long.

1:50 pm

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for the opportunity to speak on this new legislation, the Prisons Bill 2015. I warmly welcome the Bill, but I also welcome the opportunity it gives us to look more closely at the prison system and the broader criminal justice system as well and the impact it has on citizens. We must dig down and see how the public is losing confidence in the justice system and the way it is run. The Government must face up to that reality. Something must be done by senior gardaí, who must face up to the problems in the justice system. The Department of Justice and Equality must also face up to the reality of the disconnect between a substantial section of society and the justice system.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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I will go into detail on the legislation later. This is an opportunity to find out what the public wants in the justice system. People want fairness and accountability. They want to be able to trust in the justice and prison system. That is the case at present and it is something we must face up to. Let us consider what happened in recent days. Where is the logic in arresting and transporting two anti-war activists such as Deputies Clare Daly and Mick Wallace to prison and then releasing them within a matter of hours? The system is deeply flawed. We must come up with a system whereby non-violent prisoners or people who have been fined do not clog up the system and waste resources and public money. The opposite is also the case; we cannot have a situation where very violent prisoners are released on bail and peaceful prisoners with no track record of violence are kept in prison. Something is radically wrong in our system.

Something is also radically wrong if somebody stabs a person 13 times and only gets a sentence of eight or nine years. I do not wish to interfere with the justice system but there is something wrong in society when violent assaults do not merit tough punishment and resources are directed at less serious assaults and fines. I raise those issues because they are linked to the prison system. We must address the issue of violent prisoners. Judges must wake up and deal with the problem. There are too many violent prisoners in broader society and they seem to get away very lightly. That is something people find very annoying.

In the context of prison reform, we have a major problem with drugs in prison. That is something society must address. I accept the drugs issue is part of a broader debate. I support some of the recommendations for non-violent and first-time offenders in particular who are found in possession of cannabis. A current problem throughout Dublin city that might also affect other parts of the country is a new strain of cannabis that results in young people becoming very violent and getting involved in serious assaults and stabbings. This strain of cannabis is currently ravaging my constituency and across the north side of Dublin. It is important to consider those issues in the context of a broader debate. One cannot tolerate a situation whereby a dangerous strain of a drug is leading to assaults and local people and gardaí are in fear because people are totally strung out on it. Some people do not seem to live in the real world and must face up to the reality.

I welcome the legislation which specifically deals with St. Patrick’s Institution. The main purpose of the Bill is to facilitate the complete closure of the institution. However, we must also consider the broader issue of how we deal with prisoners and other issues that arise in prisons. Another issue that is often neglected is the significant number of people with intellectual disabilities and mental health issues in prison. People with disabilities or mental health issues must be treated from a medical perspective, regardless of the consequences. In addition, it is important to identify such people earlier and for them to receive the necessary support. There have been many sad cases where people with serious issues were not treated and who were involved in violent assaults. They were then locked up after the damage was done and people were injured following a stabbing or other violent assault. We must focus on that aspect of the situation as well.

In considering those who end up in prison, we must look at dysfunctional families as well. Many blame poverty as a cause for people ending up in prison but that is only one aspect of the debate. Many of those who end up in prison come from very violent, dysfunctional families where children as young as three do not have a hope in hell of getting out of the situation. The problem is not necessarily poverty; it is a lack of love and warmth for them as young children. One cannot expect a four year old child who lives in a very violent, dysfunctional family or is in a house that is fuelled with cocaine, alcohol and violence to go into school every day and be a normal child. We must face that reality. Dysfunctional and bad parenting is a significant cause of much violence. When one visits prisons, as I have done on many occasions, and look into the eyes, for example, of young men in St. Patrick’s Institution, one can see the anger, hurt and damage. That was evident also in the Tipperary case when one looks at the shots of some of those people. We are talking about damaged people. My view is that they were damaged at a very young age. We need to look at that issue. It is a tough one to face because one must be tough with violent crime but one must also take a broader view.

Young people who are abused or damaged in any way must be looked after. We must focus on the issue. I do not wish to sound like a boring, windy liberal but the way to deal with the issue is through early intervention. I have seen it work in many communities throughout this city and I have seen some excellent early intervention projects focusing on dysfunctional families with young children of one, two and three years of age. The children were reached even before they started primary school. That is something the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs should focus on and that is something that should be supported when it comes up at Cabinet level. An excellent campaign that is currently running, called Hands Up for Children, deals with this issue. It is important to put intervention services in place. I have met many young parents and seen the positive results. Research bears out what I say. It is necessary to prove that intervention works. Many groups set up under the auspices of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs are in places which operate on the north side of Dublin. In the past such schemes were funded by people such as Chuck Feeney. Such schemes prove that early intervention works and goes a long way towards preventing people ending up in prison.

One issue that greatly irritates me in the context of the justice system and the prison system is the attitude of a section of society which I call the nanny state brigade, whereby we seem constantly to target the regular person going in and out of work. Perhaps the intention is to hand out soft penalty points or to penalise people with soft fines. This morning the Garda was on duty at 8 a.m. trying to catch out people who were in huge traffic jams struggling into work in the rain and damp. Do senior gardaí not accept the reality that the vast majority of taxpayers obey the law and they do not have to come down on them like a tonne of bricks if someone goes into a bus lane for three minutes to get onto the main lane in order to try to get to work on time? It seems that those are the people who are being hammered all the time. I refer to the good responsible driver who does not want to drink and drive, who leaves his car at home when he goes to his factory staff night out but when he goes into work the following day in his car the Garda target him and people like him.

We should get real when it comes to policing and focus on the issues. That is important. We do not want to end up penalising the law-abiding people who are totally excluded from Irish society and who are constantly hammered. The same is true of taxi drivers who get hit with three penalty points when they drive innocently by a speed detection van at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. at a speed a few kilometres over the speed limit. One taxi driver I met recently had been hit with nine penalty points. The purists can say he should not have been driving at 40 km/h in a 30 km/h zone at 3 o'clock or 4 o'clock in the morning when everybody was in bed. Many taxi drivers are being put off the road by the constant issuing of penalty points detected by those who hide in speed detection vans. We all support road safety but we need to ensure that the penalty points system is not just used to gather money and as a sop to say we had so many prosecutions this year and so many people were awarded so many penalty points. By all means, we should hammer the serious speeders but, for God's sake, we should not be driving people such as van drivers or taxi drivers out of their jobs for the sake of driving 10 km/h or 11 km/h over the speed limit when no motorists are on the road. We need to use discretion and we also need to cop on when it comes to policing because if we do not we will lose the trust and confidence of the public, and the reality is that many members of the public have lost any trust they had in the system.

I might have gone off-message for a while but to return to the subject of prisons, this is a very important Bill. I strongly support it because it facilitates the closing of St. Patrick's Institution. As the explanatory memorandum sets out:

Section 3provides for the repeal of certain enactments relating to St. Patrick's Institution, in particular the remaining provisions that enable the courts to commit offenders under the age of 21 to detention in St Patrick's. The section also contains a transitional provision to ensure the continued lawfulness of the detention of persons previously sentenced to detention under the repealed provisions.

Section 3 is a very important provision relating to young people under the age of 21.

It is also important when discussing the broader issue of justice in this State that we are mindful of people who have come to our State, be they asylum seekers or refugees. Many of them have made a huge contribution but some of them are under pressure because of our justice system. There is a case involving a young man in my constituency, whose neighbours, friends and job mates are trying to stop his deportation. A letter written by a constituent on his behalf, states:

I am trying to stop the deportation of Pravish Howlodhur, originally from Mauritius, out of Ireland in the next 12 weeks.

This young man came to Ireland after leaving school at the age of 18. He has lived in North Dublin for the last 9 years. In fact he has lived all of his adult life in Ireland as he left Mauritius in his late teens. To be returned to a developing world country from the developed world would be quite traumatic for him at the age of 29. His emotional attachment, evolved sense of identify and capacity to cope with civil society is essentially with Irish society and not at this stage of his life with his original island home in the Indian Ocean.

He came originally to study but has been working for some years with ... [the] Dublin Airport Authority and due to what they call the unskilled nature of his work [the] DAA refused to apply for a work permit for him. What job [these days] is unskilled? Large organisations can sometimes have an attitude that seems to be a combination of arrogance and indifference to desperate and powerless individuals in our society. If he got the work permit he could apparently stay longer.

... the campaign on his behalf is based on grounds of human compassion and a demand for ... humane flexibility in the operation of the system.

I am quoting from a letter from a constituent who wrote to me seeking any help or suggestions I could provide to stop this man's inhumane deportation. This is a young man who wants to work in this country. He is to be kicked out of the country because he is unskilled even though he is working with the Dublin Airport Authority. I raise that issue when we are discussing the issue of people and their experience of the justice system. It is important that we focus on this issue.

I welcome the broad thrust of this debate. I note that section 6 contains the transitional provisions to deal with warrants for the committal or remand of persons to St. Patrick's Institution which remain unexecuted on the date St. Patrick's is closed. It is important when we close a system that we have a proper system in place to replace it and that we also deal with the overall issues in regard to the Prison Service.

I am thankful for the opportunity to have contributed to this debate and, overall, I welcome the legislation.

2:00 pm

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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Deputies Dan Neville, Fergus O'Dowd and Bernard Durkan are sharing time.

Photo of Dan NevilleDan Neville (Limerick, Fine Gael)
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I appreciate the opportunity to welcome this Bill. It will allow for the complete closure of St. Patrick's Institution. It is part of the Mountjoy Prison complex which dates back to 1850. It is located in the former Mountjoy women's prison. It is currently described by the Prison Service as "A closed, medium security place of detention for 17 year old males, held on remand or for trial". It has previously held male prisoners between the ages of 16 and 21. It currently has operational capacity for 34 prisons. Responsibility for 16 year old males remanded in custody or sentenced to detention was transferred from the Prison Service to the children's detention schools at Oberstown in May 2012.

St. Patrick's Institution has been widely criticised for holding male prisoners aged 16 to 21 years. Best international practice suggests that children under the age of 18 years should be separated from adult prisoners. Article 37 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits the detention of children with adults. The Children Act 2001 provides that children must be detained in a children detention school or centre rather than a prison. Children detention schools have particular objectives for children in their care, which is very different from those in prisons. The Child Act 2001 provides that it shall be the principal objective of children detention schools to provide appropriate educational and training programmes to facilitate children referred to them by the court and by having regard to their health, safety, welfare and interests, including their physical, psychological and emotional well-being. It also provides that they should cater for providing proper care, guidance and supervision for them and preserving and developing satisfactory relationships between them and between their families. It further provides that they should exercise proper moral and disciplinary influences on them and recognise the personal, cultural and linguistic identity for each of them in order to promote their reintegration into society and prepare them to take their place in the community as persons who observe the law and are capable of making a positive and productive contribution to society.

I want to raise an issue, to which Deputy Finian McGrath referred, namely, the system for dealing with prisoners with mental health illness in our prison system. The mental health experts have warned of systematic discrimination against people with serious mental health illness in the criminal justice system. Recent figures show a high level of psychosis among remand prisoners. A private project in Cloverhill Prison identified psychosis arising from conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder in 561 new remands from 2006 to 2011. Research shows that almost 8% of male remand prisoners have psychotic symptoms, which is ten times the rate of the community at large. Experts have stressed that psychosis is defined as an abnormal condition of the mind, and should not be confused with psychopathic behavioural disorders. Professor Harry Kennedy, who has one of the best reputations for psychiatry, is the clinical director of the Central Mental Hospital. He has stated that figures across the entire prison system are "quite frightening", with an estimated 300 people with severe mental illness coming into the prison service every year. He spoke of the multiplying of this over a period.

Professor Kennedy pointed out: "There is a very strong chance that any young man with a recent onset of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder may spend some time in prison – and it’s no respecter of class." I welcome that the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, has reiterated the Government’s pledge to create four regional intensive care units to relieve pressure on the Central Mental Hospital, the State’s only specialist forensic mental health facility. It has complained for some time about the scale of court referrals and has a constant waiting list. In addition, we are developing an exit programme from prisons, which would give support to vulnerable people re-entering society. This would run alongside existing court diversion and in-prison mental health services. This is important and it has been neglected not just over the decades but over the centuries. The Cloverhill project has diverted more than 700 prisoners to mental health care settings since it was established in 2006 but it covers fewer than 60% of the remand population, according to mental health campaigners.

All over the State, people are falling foul of the law because of behaviour arising from mental illness and often they end up in custody, either in the Central Mental Hospital, Dundrum, or in mainstream prisons where, according to repeated inspection reports, their mental and physical health deteriorates. If two people commit a minor offence, the one with a mental illness is much more likely to be incarcerated because, according to Doctor O'Neill:

To get bail all you need is an address, a sum of money or someone to vouch for you. These are things people with mental illness don’t tend to have. They are often homeless, impoverished, and they have lost contact with their families.

We discussed this aspect recently during the two recent debates on homelessness and those who are on the streets as a result of mental illness. They are released from prison and discharged from psychiatric units back on to the streets without services being available for them. There are factors relating to mental health in our prison population. Lack of early intervention, the prevalence of drug abuse and inadequate community resources all contribute to the high rate of mental illness in prison. Even the closure of psychiatric hospitals may play its part, as the phenomenon known as Penrose’s Law suggests. It says a country’s prison population increases as its number of psychiatric beds decreases.

Dr. Brendan Kelly, a consultant psychiatrist at the Mater Hospital, has studied the trend in Ireland, and says:

The obvious hypothesis is that persons released from psychiatric hospitals somehow end up in prison, but that’s not at all clear. Is there a subgroup of patients who have ended up in prisons as a result of hospital closures? The answer is probably yes, but it is a small subgroup and it needs to be addressed. The correct solution is not to reopen custodial-style institutions, because they resulted in casual violations of human rights.

In 2012, in his annual report, the Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, concluded that the management of prisoners with mental illness remained a "significant problem", and a review group operating under the Department of Justice and Equality recently admitted that "imprisonment can aggravate mental health problems, heighten vulnerability and increase the risk of self-harm and suicide". However, there have been improvements. A few years ago, when prisoners arrived at Mountjoy, they were brought straight up to the landings and put into shared cells. Now they spend their first night in a committal unit, where they see a nurse and, if necessary, a doctor. They are allowed a phone call and given details of the Samaritans listener service, a counselling network run by fellow inmates. Enda Kelly, Mountjoy’s nurse manager said: "We are much more proactive in identifying risk. Officers will approach us and say, 'X is not well.' That is probably the single most important development: the changing culture". If mental illness or a suicide risk is diagnosed on admission, prisoners can be transferred to the high support unit. Prior to this, they were placed in a padded cell in totally unsuitable conditions.

There is a natural tension between balancing the need to address a mental illness with the necessity to provide justice. Of course, it is important in all aspects of this issue to ensure the protection of society and to ensure there is no danger to citizens of violence in our communities but if the resources were there, it would be an excellent opportunity to move people on, because the one thing about prison is that there is a captive audience.

People working in the sector stress that mental illness does not excuse bad deeds. According to Dr. Brendan Kelly:

Most people may have some irrationality as a result of mental illness, but they also have a lot of rationality. The majority of psychiatrists and citizens would agree there are occasions when individuals are so mentally ill they can’t be held responsible for their actions. But, even in these cases, victims and families of victims have a legitimate expectation of justice. The issue is complicated by the fact that mental illness is “not a binary state” and can evolve over a life. Kelly stresses, however, “the vast majority of mentally ill people are in no way more violent than other people. They are more likely to be the victims of crime than other people.

I welcome the closure of St. Patrick's Institution and I congratulate the Minister and the Government for bringing the Bill forward.

2:10 pm

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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I very much welcome the Bill. This will be an effective decision, which is long overdue. Nobody wants children sent to St. Patrick's Institution and that will not happen anymore. However, the question is where will they go now. More important, can we give these children who are in detention centres a better life, intervene at an earlier stage and provide more facilities so they will not have to be housed in the centres that are proposed?

I received a reply to a parliamentary question I tabled to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs regarding the number of children in private residential care centres for those aged under 17. They could be in the centres voluntarily or they could be put there by the courts. On average, the State spends €150,000 per annum on each child. In my constituency, Louth, communities have experienced problems with people who have been placed in high dependence units, which might hold up to four children at a time. I am concerned about whether these units are the best place for children. Is there a better model? Can children in dysfunctional families be identified at an earlier stage whereby other types of intervention could be made that might be more effective than the current model?

Ultimately, children who do not successfully improve their pattern of behaviour when they go through these care institutions will end up in prison anyway. The Government has identified the need to increase the services and resources available to child and family centres and to go back further to when children are in pre-school. It is exceptionally clear from disadvantaged communities that pre-school education and involvement with children before they go to primary school has a very significant capacity to improve their outcomes in terms of educational attainment and socialisation. The result is a much happier, more involved and integrated society. It is absolutely clear that the earlier we identify, intervene and support children who come from a dysfunctional family or have mental health issues, the better their outcome will be. That is a particular objective of everybody.

It is a matter of great concern that in an inspection of Tusla and the services it provides for children in County Louth it received a score of one out of 27. In other words, in almost all cases, it failed or has failed in the past. I welcome the fact that its chief executive and chief operations officer are taking direct responsibility for what is happening in my constituency with the care of children who would otherwise end up in prisons. I welcome their concern and involvement. We need a value for money audit of our services for children right across the country to examine whether it is the best model and conforms to best practice internationally. Is there a better way? I welcome the personal commitment of Mr. Gordon Jeyes of Tusla and his chief operations officer to examine these issues. They are absolutely committed to Tusla being the national centre of excellence for looking after young people and keeping them out of the care of the State as they grow into young adults. Such an assessment would show if we are getting value for money and establish if there is a better way to do what we have been doing to get better outcomes. It will be for the good of everybody.

Yesterday, I listened to a famous Irish artist with a very difficult family background speak to Miriam O'Callaghan. I was deeply impressed that he had a very difficult family background, had been involved with gangs and other criminal activity when he was very young, yet now his art is of such a high professional standard that each painting is worth at least $1 million. This shows how successfully he has overcome a very difficult background. He has shown leadership and commitment to bring about change in his own life which affects everyone who comes into contact with him. He is a brilliant person and has succeeded fantastically to overcome his background. In his assessment of his life, he respects how disadvantaged his parents were. As a former teacher, I have known lots of young people who despite the best efforts of teachers, parents and peers ended up in prison and on the wrong side of the law. A very significant number of those are not violent people but fell into drugs and criminality because of poverty, lack of education or educational attainment or their inability to read and write. There are huge issues in our society and we are throwing money at them. We need to reassess and look for a better way to keep people out of trouble, support families, and help these young people. We could look again at better models of care and early intervention. By the time young people reach St. Patrick's Institution, which thankfully is closing, they have passed the stage at which they can be helped because in most cases they are fixed on a course which is irreversible. The message I have from my experience of working with young people and my knowledge of the communities that I work in is that the earlier the intervention, the better and more successful it will be. I am talking about starting at pre-school, working in primary schools and putting more resources into places of disadvantage.

Some years ago, the Journal of Health Gain, which was produced by Maynooth University, mapped Dublin city by the location of where people died younger, had the worst health, lowest educational attainment and most often ended up in Mountjoy jail. Those people all came from particular electoral divisions of Dublin. It is a fact that communities that suffer poverty, ill-health and criminality are the most deprived in society. The only way forward is to put money into those communities to provide earlier interventions, more support services and family supports. That is the only way we can change. In terms of the significant positive outcomes for educational attainment, the younger those children can be reached, the better. The support services given right around the country to breakfast clubs, homework clubs and getting involved with communities is the future and is how change is brought about. It is how change is happening.

I welcome the principle of the Bill but I have concerns about how we can make a better country for these young people so they feel part of society, that it is there for them, reaches out to them and helps them, their siblings and family. My criticism of Tusla is balanced by my knowledge of its commitment to bring about change. It needs more funding as it has a significant inability to employ social workers. There is a shortage of social workers nationally to intervene and help in situations that clearly exist. Tusla needs to get a better report from HIQA when it next examines Tusla's services in County Louth. I have no doubt that those who work at the very top in Tusla are committed to achieving that. It will impact right through our society and offer a better opportunity for young people to succeed and achieve the best they can for their lives with the talents they have been given.

2:20 pm

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I welcome this legislation for a number of reasons. I refer to the important points made by other speakers on the detention of juveniles and the detention of all prisoners, which I will speak on in a moment. In 1985, TK Whitaker wrote, on the viability of St. Patrick's Institution as a corrective, rehabilitative or educational centre for reintroducing young people who have erred into society, that, "The dominant features of St. Patrick's for the majority of those contained there are boredom and demoralisation." That was a very significant remark at that time.

In the intervening years much legislation has passed through the Houses and a large number of prisoners have been through the system of detention. The 1985 report should have been adequate to force change to occur much sooner. It went on to state:

Rehabilitation is not possible where the physical and environmental conditions are such as to nullify any personal developmental programmes. Facilities and services which a human and morally acceptable detention centre should provide for juveniles could not be provided even in a renovated St. Patrick's Institution.

In his annual reports for 2004 and 2005 Mr. Justice Dermot Kinlen described St. Patrick's Institution as "a finishing school for bullying and developing criminal skills", which is a sufficient epitaph that whatever the initial purpose of the institution was, it was not capable of delivering services of a rehabilitative nature or improving in any way the opportunities for those who had deviated from the right path.

Deputy Finian McGrath made an interesting contribution. It should be remembered that, in the case of juvenile offenders, insecurity is often at the heart of their problems. They may be insecure for many reasons such as dysfunctionality within the family home and so on. Without a shadow of doubt, dysfunctionality impacts on a child and moulds his or her character such that when first introduced to what is commonly known as corrective training it should be conducive to re-establishing his or her confidence in the system and improving his or her chances of induction into society in a way that is reassuring from his or her point of view.

I probably have a little more knowledge of prisons than many of my colleagues. If one looks into the eyes of a prisoner, particularly a young prisoner, one will see doubt, fear and concern about the future and know that there is a lack of knowledge of what might happen to him or her in certain circumstances. If the system is to be rehabilitative and educational, it needs to provide reassurance for the prisoner that society will look after him or her if he or she co-operates and helps it. When we point the finger and say people are beyond salvation, that there is no hope for them and so on, all we are doing is abdicating our responsibilities. I do not agree with that approach. With proper intervention and the right programme, it is possible to rehabilitate the person who has erred and help him or her to regain confidence in the system. It is vital that an offender who has had a deprived childhood or suffered social and economic deprivation or abuse in the home or society is, through proper intervention, given an opportunity to change and thus make a valuable contribution to society.

I have mentioned that insecurity has a huge impact on a family and, in particular, the children within it. That insecurity can lead to a deviation from the straight and narrow early on in a child's life or during his or her teenage years. This brutalisation of children, incidences of which have been brought to our attention, leads them to believe only the fittest will survive and that if they are not able to stand up for themselves, they will not survive. Fear then takes over. When fear takes over a child or teenager, he or she is liable to do anything to distance himself or herself from the place in which he or she finds himself or herself at the time.

A number of speakers referred to dysfunctionality within the family home and poverty as being among the reasons young people became involved in crime. I do not agree. Poverty may be a contributory factor, but there are many people who come from poor families who do not engage in criminality or regard it as a natural progression. It is not true to say, therefore, that all people who are poor are naturally inclined to engage in lawlessness or criminality. There are other influences at play also, about one of which nobody talks about any more. A number of years ago parents were discouraged from giving their children cowboy outfits and guns for Christmas on the basis that it would give the wrong message. The messages being sent in terms of the violence depicted in films shown on television these days which are often considered appropriate for viewing by small children are very worrying. I have no doubt that this is impacting on young people who are subject to peer pressure. Witnessing gratuitous violence has, without doubt, an influence on criminality. Violence against women is depicted in a way which indicates that it is normal practice. Previously if a person was shot in a film, he or she fell down. Nowadays he or she will have his or her throat cut, followed by people stomping on his or her head, which violence no human being could withstand in the ordinary course of events and this is portrayed as entertainment. It is also portrayed as being normal activity in today's world. This is hugely damaging to children, in particular those who are impressionable. There are many people, including children and teenagers, who are impressed by gratuitous violence and accept it as being part of life today, which is sad. This is very damaging to our young population. It is important that those with responsibility address this problem before it gets worse.

It is important that, on leaving an institution after a first incarceration, a young offender recognise that what he or she did was wrong and that he or she has the wherewithal, by way of a rehabilitation and education programme, to become part society. I agree with the remarks made by colleagues about juveniles with mental health problems. There is no point in referring a juvenile or an adult to an institution of correction if, on leaving it, his or her greatest achievement will be acquiring a masters degree in criminal activity. Where this occurs, society has done the offender a disservice because he or she has learned more in prison about criminality and how to succeed in that environment than he or she would have learned had he or she never been sent to prison.

The extent of the intervention, in particular in the case of firsttime offenders, has to be focused on looking after their education, presenting them with the various options that can, should be and are available and trying to ensure the intervention is made not so much in a punitive and regressive way but in a way that is helpful to their ability to live normal lives in society. It must help them recognise there is another, better way and that, if they follow that route, they are likely to get support from the State. Unfortunately, it is easy for people to say these offenders were wrong, which they were, and should be condemned for ever more but that is not the way to do things. If we proceed along that route, we will only end up with bigger and bigger prisons holding more and more people. There will be no possibility of rehabilitation or reintroduction into society or of changing their views on society. That is not a good thing.

Various people who have progressed after prison have been mentioned. Johnny Cash comes to mind, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Both you and I well know his story. He sang about it many times in the past. I am sure the Minister of State has heard it as well although he was before her time. It is a fact, however, that he overcame the difficulties with which he was then surrounded and saw another side of society in which he excelled.

I do not wish to delay the debate but I am strongly of the view that if corrective training does not carry the degree of education, support, reassurance and rehabilitation of the human being it should, no matter what we do in terms of location, it will not work. However, it should work. We need to focus on that element. Having tabled numerous parliamentary questions on it, I have already spoken on previous occasions on what prison and detention does for an individual. It should be an improvement and a reassurance. When juveniles are referred to a place of detention they need to feel the people into whose charge they are going will help them. They need to know the system will help them. They need to know that when they come out, the date of which they will know when they go in, they will be in a better position to survive in society. What they should not have coming out with is a Ph.D. in criminality. They should not have learned more about how to take on the system they feel has not been fair to them.

In the old system, when health boards had visiting committees, I was one of the people who had to visit the various institutions from time to time. It was a great way for public representatives to learn about the system and how it affected people. I saw some appalling situations, including inappropriate referrals, in particular of young people, to mental institutions where they were associated with people way older than themselves. Juveniles were being treated the same way as people with serious mental disorders who were to be detained for a long time. If they were in a different institution, they would have had a very good chance of survival and a different attitude to society.

It would also have been far better value for money in so far as the State was concerned. Value for money comes into it as well. There is no use spending money on something that will not improve society or the individual and which will do nothing other than punish someone. Punishment is fine in so far as those who administer the punishment may feel they have done their bit and avenged society. This, however, is not about vengeance or reprisal. It is about doing best for those involved. The end benefit should be one to society.

2:40 pm

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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In welcoming the opportunity to speak on the Bill, I wish to speak as Chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, in which capacity I will reference Oberstown. I also wish to speak as a Deputy from the city of Cork, where there is a proposal for a new prison. The important point is that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has indicated it is his intention that the practice of detaining children in adult prison facilities will cease as early as possible this year. All of us who are involved as members of the Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality or the Committee on Health and Children or as Members of this House will welcome the fact that St. Patrick's Institution will close.

St. Patrick's Institution was where we housed young adult offenders and children. Everyone recognises that this approach was wrong, unhelpful and did not lead to rehabilitation. When we hear the reports today on the number of people who re-offend within three years of coming out of our prison system, it begs the question, what is the main purpose of detention and incarceration? The purpose of this Bill is one which I am sure will be welcomed by all Members of the House in the context of where we are going as a society and as a country. The Minister of State in her fine speech referred to Dr. T.K. Whitaker in the 1980s and noted that there has been a huge momentum towards closure. This Government, in its programme for Government, committed to closing St. Patrick's Institution and refurbishing, rebuilding and changing Oberstown. The committee I chair visited it and met members of staff and I will return to that matter later.

It is important to examine how we want to rehabilitate and educate young people who offend. It is important to examine how we allow the system punish them for their wrongdoing. It is also important they recognise that wrongdoing has a consequence while, at the same, they are given the opportunity and the skills to put right their wrongs. This is why the programme for Government was critical in terms of bringing those under 16 years of age and between 16 years and 18 years in custody into the right zone.

The €56 million development of Oberstown was necessary and one we all welcome. The development is now almost complete. Along with my colleagues in the Committee on Health and Children, I had the opportunity to visit the campus. I thank all the staff who work in Oberstown. In recent weeks and months, these men and women have seen changes to their work schedules and working lives as well as having to deal with serious workplace issues. All of us involved in the area of children and justice want to see those working in our prison system and our young offenders system be able to do so in a safe and secure manner. At the same time, we want those who are under their care to be equally safe when detained. As the Minister of State stated in her reply to the committee in September, we want children in the criminal justice system to be detained as a last resort only. There is a need for an ongoing dialogue on Oberstown. We have heard the concerns of staff members. The Minister, her Department and the staff at Oberstown are committed to ensuring the staff do not have to continue to endure some of the difficulties currently faced by them.

I hope we will see an end to 16 and 17 year olds being detained by order of the courts.

There is no place in the criminal justice system for incarcerating young people in Dickensian institutions.

On the question of admission to custody, I do not want to be controversial in the sense that what I speak about is outside the remit of the House, but members of the Judiciary must give consideration to where they place young people. Should St. Patrick's Institution or the Oberstown centre be the first port of call? Issues such as the age of the defendant, the complexity of the crime and proportionality must be taken into account. I am not trying to minimise in any way the crimes that have been perpetrated, but we must examine continually the youth justice system and the sanctions imposed on young people.

It is important that we continue the programme of capital investment and recruitment of new staff. In that regard, in recent weeks the Oberstown centre has been advertising posts and recruiting new staff. The management structure and culture within institutions must be closely monitored.

The report of the Inspector of Prisons, Mr. Justice Michael Reilly, referred to a lack of attention to human rights and the prevalence of drugs within St. Patrick's Institution, both of which are unacceptable.

I commend the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Department for the recent investment in Cork Prison. City councillors and Oireachtas Members from Cork city recognise the importance of the investment of €38 million in the development of a new prison. It will increase capacity and allow for the recruitment of more staff. In recent days Newstalk radio ran a series of programmes on the prison. I commend those involved in the development project which will be completed on time. A new, modern prison is being built on a site adjacent to the existing prison. I also pay tribute to the Cork Prison Visiting Committee for its annual report for 2014. Often we do not see what happens behind the scenes, but the members of the visiting committee are actively involved in the workings of the prison.

Education and training are of paramount importance. Prisoners are engaged in numerous activities, including taking various FETAC-level courses.

On the issue of bullying, I pay a particular tribute to the staff and the visiting committee for setting up a pilot project, with the Cork Traveller Visibility Group, to deal with the bullying of Travellers in prison. Classes were offered to members of the Traveller community which proved successful. As a former director of adult education, I am very pleased that staff at Cork Prison have been providing night classes for prisoners. One such class focuses on the making and fixing of hurleys, which will be of interest to the Minister of State and the Leas-Cathaoirleach. The class has enabled prisoners to develop a new and useful skill.

It is important to point out that Cork Prison has adopted a multi-agency approach which plays a key role in it being able to offer educational opportunities, tackle mental health problems, addiction problems and so forth. While it is correct that we incarcerate people for wrongdoing, we must continue to engage with and mentor them when released, particularly those who want to change and begin a new life. We must encourage them and give them every opportunity to do just that. The criminal justice system is an integral part of society and people look to the courts for safety and sanction. We all support the Judiciary and it is very important that it operate independently.

I again commend the Cork Prison Visiting Committee for its information booklet which was made available in 2014. It facilitates improved access to services within the prison for prisoners, which is very important as it allows them to begin a new phase of their lives, even while still in custody. I acknowledge the work of the Irish Prison Service, the visiting committee and staff in that regard.

The Irish Prison Service in Cork was instrumental in providing two excellent playgrounds for the children of St. Brendan's and St. Mark's primary schools on the north side of the city with funds from the community dividend, which is indicative of the partnership approach adopted. As the visiting committee's report points out, the playgrounds were badly needed and greatly appreciated by the parents, staff and pupils of the aforementioned schools.

I have referred to the hurley repair workshops that take place in Cork Prison. I commend the officers involved, particularly Mr. Andrew McCarthy who has been involved for almost two decades. In the workshop prisoners are taught a new skill which gives them a new outlook, while also benefiting local GAA clubs. It is estimated that between 100 and 150 hurleys are repaired in the workshop. Last year 22 basic certificates and eight advanced certificates were awarded to prisoners. The work of prison visiting committees and the reports they produce often go unnoticed.

I take the opportunity to pay tribute to Fr. Michael Kidney who was chaplain in Cork Prison for many years. He was a devout but ordinary man whose life was built on the maxim of Christianity. He provided hope for so many prisoners who had very little to hope for in their lives. I must also pay tribute to Sr. Mary Jo Sheehy for the invaluable work she has done in Cork Prison.

In the context of this debate we must review the rules for what were known as detention schoosl and also how we discipline young people. I hate using these old, cold terms because that is not what this debate is about. It is about moving on to a different era and new opportunities. The Oberstown centre must be viewed in that context. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs is committed to tackling various issues within the youth justice system. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children raised the matter with him last week and has raised it with management at Oberstown. There is a need for further engagement and dialogue because we need a more co-ordinated approach to detaining young people. I hope any custodial sentence imposed will prove to beneficial to those concerned because custody should be about rehabilitation and re-education. It should not just be a matter of locking the door and throwing away the key because that does not work. We must offer people hope and the opportunity to begin a new life.

The passage of the Bill is significant. It is important that we learn from the mistakes of the past.

Oberstown will transform the issue of detention for young people. We must not spurn that opportunity. We must use it to create a secure and safe environment for the staff who work there. It must become the beginning of a second chance for the young people placed there. It is about allowing them to recognise their mistakes and go on to make a contribution to society. If people re-offend at a later time, that poses a different challenge. We must consign St. Patrick's Institution to history. It has out-served its time. In creating the new campus at Oberstown, it is important that we get it right.

I commend the Minister for the work she has been doing in the Department. The Bill before us will allow young people who are sent to Oberstown the space and time to learn the importance of right and wrong.

3:00 pm

Photo of Ann PhelanAnn Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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I thank all the Deputies who contributed to the debate. Their contributions have been very good and interesting. While they all may not have spoken specifically to the Bill, we have been given much food for thought.

The Prisons Bill finally delivers on the calls to close St. Patrick's Institution which, as we know, go back over 30 years. Achievement of the goal set out in the programme for government commitment to end detention of children in adult prison facilities is a key priority for the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. Deputy Buttimer referred to this as being a historic day. Substantial progress has been made on this commitment, with the capital development project in Oberstown now largely complete, responsibility for all 16 year old males and 17 year old male remands assigned to Oberstown and the recent enactment of the Children (Amendment) Act 2015.

Before I continue with my closing remarks, I want to address some of the issues that were raised. Deputy Durkan raised a specific question about deportation. The amendment regarding deportation of prisoners will not affect the operation of existing procedures under immigration legislation in cases where a person may wish to seek an appeal or review of a deportation order.

Deputy Buttimer recognised the correspondence between his committee and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Reilly. The Minster wrote to the Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children last week about a range of issues regarding the Oberstown campus. The following developments that have occurred in recent months are to be noted: the new education and recreational building was opened in September 2015 and is now fully operational; progress has been made with the final residential unit under the Oberstown capital project and the unit is due to be handed over in late December 2015 or early January 2016; a training officer was appointed in September and a campus-wide training strategy and schedule is currently being implemented; and a designated human resource manager for the campus commenced in post in August 2015, which will ensure that best practice human resource management is the norm for the campus. There has been a review of the security call system in use on the campus and a revised staff notice has been issued on its use.

Deputies also referred to the HIQA reports, the most recent of which was issued in October. While it does single out particular areas for further attention, it also recognises that progress is clearly being made in the development of the campus. The updated action plan has been accepted by HIQA on foot of the inspection. It identifies ongoing areas of improvement for the delivery of service on the campus in order to ensure that the journey of a young person through Oberstown is seamless. HIQA also inspected the campus in mid-November and the initial feedback from that inspection is also positive.

All the Deputies have referred to education, rehabilitation and training for prisoners. If the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will allow me, I will outline a couple of very important points. The Prison Service provides a wide range of rehabilitative programmes to those in custody. These include education, vocational training, health care, psychiatric and psychological care, counselling, and welfare and spiritual services. These programmes offer purposeful activity to those in custody and encourage them to lead law-abiding lives on release. They are available in all prisons and all prisoners are eligible to use them. The development of prisoner programmes forms a central part of the Prison Service three-year strategy for 2012 to 2015. There is a clear commitment to enhanced sentence planning through integrated sentence management and the delivery of prison-based rehabilitative programmes.

The Government's unprecedented programme of reform in closing St Patrick's Institution and developing national child detention facilities at Oberstown will allow young people sentenced to detention, which is a last resort under the Children Act 2001, to be placed in a secure environment that will offer them a second chance to be productive people who contribute to society.

I am advised that most of the 17 year olds currently serving sentences in Wheatfield will either reach the age of 18 or will complete their sentences by the end of March 2016. Deputies will appreciate that this position changes on a daily basis as a result of cases being dealt with in the courts. When the relevant provisions of the Children (Amendment) Act 2015 and the Prisons Bill are commenced, the Prison Service and the Youth Justice Service will be in a position to evaluate the situation regarding the 17 year olds then detained in Wheatfield. However, at present, it is not envisaged that the remaining 17 year olds will transfer to Oberstown. Rather, it is envisaged that they will continue to serve their sentences in Wheatfield. This is consistent with what happened previously in the transfer of responsibility to Oberstown for all 16 year old males and 17 year old males on remand. Those phases of transition were done on the basis of new cases only of children received under new court orders from a particular date.

As regards issues that have been raised in respect of imprisonment for non-payment of fines, the Fines (Payment and Recovery) Act 2014 represents a major reform of the fine payment and recovery system in Ireland. The new system provides flexibility for the payment of fines and seeks to reduce to a minimum the number of people committed to prison for non-payment of fines, which will now be a last resort. While it is desirable to commence the legislation as soon as possible, it was important that the necessary preparations were made, in particular by the Courts Service, in order to ensure that the significant changes to the fines system are implemented smoothly and effectively from the start. Good progress has been made on this preparatory work and it is now envisaged that the Act will commence on 11 January 2016.

Once again, I thank Deputies for their support for the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.