Seanad debates

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Children (Amendment) Bill 2015: Second Stage

 

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

10:30 am

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Minister, Department of Health; Dublin North, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I am pleased to have this opportunity today to introduce the Children (Amendment) Bill 2015 to the House and look forward to engaging in a constructive debate as the Bill proceeds through the various Stages. The provisions in this Bill, which is proposed to amend the existing Children Act 2001, relate to the relatively small number of children who are in trouble with the law and are sent by the courts to the children detention schools.

The Bill will deliver on a key programme for Government commitments to end the practice of sending children to St. Patrick's Institution, to provide a system of remission in children detention schools and introduce equal treatment between children and adults, and capitalise on reforms to date by amalgamating the children detention schools to enable greater efficiencies.

On 1 January 2012, responsibility for remand places in children detention schools, under section 88 of the Children Act 2001, and for children detention schools under Part 10 of the Act transferred from the Minister for Justice and Equality to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs. Responsibility for other parts of the Children Act remain with the Minister for Justice and Equality.

Children detention schools provide residential facilities for children who are subject to a children detention order following conviction, or who are remanded in custody to a remand centre arising from criminal charges. The objectives of the children detention schools are to provide for the care and educational needs of the children, and to address offending behaviour in order to prepare them for their return to the community in due course. There are three children detention schools in the State, all located on the same campus at Oberstown, near Lusk, County Dublin. Oberstown girls' school accommodates girls under 18 years of age who are remanded in custody or subject to a detention order. Trinity House and Oberstown boys' school accommodate boys aged under 18 who are ordered by the courts to be remanded in custody, as well as boys aged 16 or under who are subject to a detention order. The Government is committed to ending the practice of detaining children in adult prison facilities, and several positive steps have been taken to date to meet that programme for Government commitment. In 2012, capital funding of €56 million was confirmed for the Oberstown development project; responsibility for 16 year old boys was assigned to the Oberstown campus and the remit of the Ombudsman for Children was extended to include children detained in adult prison facilities. Last year, a first recruitment process for care staff to work in Oberstown was completed, and further recruitment steps are ongoing. I recently authorised the transfer of responsibility for 17 year old males who are newly remanded in custody to Oberstown from 30 March 2015.

The Bill seeks to achieve several objectives. Significant initiatives and reforms have taken place in recent years on the Oberstown campus, to enable a more efficient use of resources, including centralisation of services, common policies across the three schools and better use of accommodation. These initiatives are complemented by a major capital development at the Oberstown campus to redevelop and expand facilities. The Bill builds on the reforms achieved to date by providing a statutory basis for the amalgamation of the three children detention schools.

The Bill deletes all references on the Irish Statute Book to the possibility of detaining children in adult facilities, in line with the programme for Government commitment to end the practice of sending children to St. Patrick's Institution. Since 30 March 2015, 17 year old males who are remanded in custody are sent to a remand centre situated in a children detention school. On commencement of the relevant provisions of this Act, 17 year old males on whom a detention order is imposed will be detained in a children detention school.

Under section 155 of the Children Act 2001, children serving a period of detention, who are convicted on indictment, can remain in a children detention school for an additional six months beyond their 18th birthday where they satisfy certain conditions. The Children Act does not address the position of children who are convicted of summary offences and are still the subject of a detention order when they reach the age of 18. The Bill clarifies the treatment of all children in such cases. As I said earlier, the Bill gives the director the option to keep a young person in a children detention school for six months beyond his or her 18th birthday where certain conditions are met. This regime reflects current provision for children convicted on indictment. The conditions to be met are that the person is engaged in a course of education or training in the children detention school, or that there are less than six months of the sentence remaining to be served on the person's 18th birthday. If these conditions are not met, the director shall request the transfer of the person to prison or a place of detention.

The principle of equality of treatment between children in children detention schools and adults in the prison system is reflected in this Bill. This reflects the High Court ruling of December 2013 in the case of S.B. v. the Minister for Justice, in which the court ruled that children in children detention schools had an entitlement to remission on the same basis as adults in the prison system. Therefore, the Bill provides for remission in children detention schools, incorporating a new disciplinary process and an appeal process whereby the sanction imposed is forfeiture of remission. The Bill provides for the introduction of a system of remission where a child engages in good conduct while detained in the children detention school. Remission will be introduced by way of regulations made by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs under section 221 of the Children Act 2001. In particular, the regulations will provide for the same rate of remission of detention as that in place for adults - one quarter, and in some cases not exceeding one third, of the sentence of detention concerned.

The Bill provides for an amendment to section 42 of the Criminal Justice Act 1999 to allow the Garda to arrest a child who is already on a detention order, or on remand in a children detention school, for questioning in relation to an offence or offences other than those for which he or she is in detention or on remand. The Bill augments existing provisions in this area in relation to adults. The Bill provides for a number of other amendments, including the creation of an offence of supplying a mobile phone to a child in detention and a number of consequential amendments related to ending the detention of children in the adult system.

I will now set out the provisions of the Bill. In Part 1 of the Bill, sections 1 to 3, inclusive, provide for the Short Title, collective citation, construction, commencement and definitions of the Bill, as well as for the repeal of certain provisions of the Children Act 2001 that provide for the remand in custody or detention of males in St. Patrick's Institution.

Part 2 of the Bill provides for matters relating to closure and amalgamation of children detention schools, clarification of matters relating to children turning 18 in detention, and a new system of discipline and remission. More specifically, section 4 provides for the amendment of terms referred to in section 3 of the 2001 Act and section 5 provides for an amendment to section 88 of the 2001 Act relating to remand centres to enable the Minister to designate all of a children detention school as a remand centre. The amendment will enable the Minister to designate part or all of a children detention school as a remand centre.

Section 6 inserts new sections 88A and 88B to enable the transfer of children remanded in custody between remand centres and to apply the disciplinary regime for children subject to a detention order to remand children. Section 7 provides for the deletion of the reference to "an order under section 155(1)" in section 98 of the 2001 Act as no such order is referred to in the section in question. That is really a technical correction. Section 8 substitutes a new section 149 incorporating some of the provisions of section 155 to clarity the period of detention that may be imposed by a court on a child. Section 9 provides for an amendment to section 151 of the 2001 Act to refer to the granting of remission that is being introduced in children detention schools by the Bill.

Section 10 substitutes a new section 155 to provide for the treatment of people who reach 18 years of age during their detention and are still subject to children detention orders. Section 11 provides for an amendment to section 157 relating to definitions for the purposes of Part 10 of the Children Act 2001. Section 12 provides for the substitution of a new section 163 to enable the Minister to make an order relating to the permanent or temporary closure of a children detention school or part thereof. I hasten to add that there is no such intention any time in the near future.

Section 13 inserts a new section 163A to enable the Minister to make an order relating to the amalgamation of two or more children detention schools. Section 14 inserts a new section 174A to provide for the preparation and submission of final accounts and final reports to the Minister on the closure or amalgamation of a children detention school. Section 15 provides for an amendment to section 179 of the Children Act 2001 to revise the power of the board of management to make rules in relation to discipline in children detention schools. The board of management will continue to make rules for the maintenance of good order, but disciplinary matters will become subject to a new regime under sections 201 to 201D of the Act. Section 16 substitutes a new section 184 to provide for and update matters relating to the superannuation of staff of a children detention school. Section 17 substitutes a new section 201 and provides for an inquiry by the director into an alleged disciplinary breach by a child detained in a children detention school.

Section 18 inserts new sections 201A, 201B, 201C and 201D. Section 201A provides for the sanctions that may be imposed where the director finds that a child committed a disciplinary breach. Section 201B provides for a petition to the Minister where a child is found by the director to have committed a disciplinary breach and on whom a sanction has been imposed. Section 201C provides for an appeal to an appeal tribunal against forfeiture of remission. Section 201D provides for the establishment of an appeal tribunal.

Section 19 amends section 205 to provide for the power of the Minister to suspend a temporary leave programme of a child. Section 20 amends section 206 to provide for a variation of the conditions attaching to a programme of temporary leave for a child over 18 years who continues to be detained in a children detention school pursuant to section 155. Section 21 amends section 207 to provide for the power of the director to authorise the placing out of a child over 18 years of age without a requirement to reside with a specified person, but with a requirement to reside in a particular place.

Section 22 amends section 215 to provide for matters relating to the escape of a child who on return to a children detention school is under the age of 18 years and six months, or is over the age of 18 years and six months and is therefore an adult. Section 23 provides for an amendment to section 217 to amend the offence of harbouring a child who has escaped from a children detention school or is otherwise absent without permission to include a person over the age of 18 years and six months. Section 24 inserts a new section 218A to provide for an offence of supplying or attempting to supply a mobile telecommunications device to a child detained in a children detention school or remanded to a remand centre. Section 25 amends section 221 of the 2001 Act to provide for the making of regulations by the Minister in relation to remission of a portion of a child's detention and the acts that constitute disciplinary breaches.

Part 3 of the Bill amends relevant legislation to reflect that children will no longer be detained in St. Patrick's Institution. It also provides for the arrest of detained or remanded children in connection with the investigation of other offences. I will give more specific details of the provisions of Part 3. Section 26 provides for the definition of terms used in Part 3 of the Bill. Section 27 provides for the amendment of section 1(1) of the Prevention of Crime Act 1908 to revise the references to the age of people detained in St. Patrick's Institution from "sixteen"' to "eighteen" years. Section 28 provides for the amendment of section 10 of the Criminal Justice Administration Act 1914 to revise the references to the age of people detained in or remanded to St. Patrick's Institution from "sixteen" to "eighteen" years. Section 29 provides for an amendment to section 13 of the Criminal Justice Act 1960 to revise the references to the age of people detained in St. Patrick's Institution from "seventeen" to "eighteen" years. Section 30 amends section 42 of the Criminal Justice Act 1999 to provide for the arrest of children detained in a children detention school or remanded to a remand centre situated in a children detention school in connection with the investigation of other offences. Section 31 provides for transitional arrangements in relation to sections 27 to 29.

This Bill underpins significant initiatives and reforms that have taken place in recent years, which have been developed with the overall goal of extending the child care model of detention to all children under 18 years of age. It also reflects the principle of equality of treatment between children in children detention schools and adults in the adult prison system. It provides the necessary amendments to legislation to achieve the programme for Government commitment to end the practice of detaining children in adult facilities. I thank Senators for their support for and engagement with the Bill. I look forward to our debate and I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister, Deputy James Reilly, and his senior officials to the House. I note the Bill was published on 11 May, which gave us only a short time to prepare to debate Second Stage. I want to express my thanks to the Fianna Fáil research office for its work with me on preparing a response. I have no real problems with this, although it is an issue that will arise again given the time available between Second Stage and Committee Stage.

With regard to familiarisation, while I have not been to Oberstown, I was on a visiting committee at the Curragh at one time, so I know a bit about prisons. I believe it would be useful, if transport was available from St. Patrick's or from Oberstown, if some of the spokespersons could visit the institution before Committee Stage, just to familiarise themselves with the actual position of the building and the facilities there. I suggest that it be arranged for us to at least go there, whether with the Minister or with his officials, as it would be a useful exercise. I remember we were brought to Mountjoy some years ago to visit the facilities there, which proved useful.

Fianna Fáil supports the passage of this Bill. Rehabilitation must be a paramount consideration in the detention of young people. While we broadly welcome the Bill, there are a number of important issues which need to be clarified about the amendments and repeals to the 2001 and 2006 Acts. Principally, the Bill repeals the right of children on remand to be separated from children who have been convicted. The Minister needs to clarify if this is the intention of the Bill and whether this important right will be implemented in Oberstown in practice.

It is hoped that the Bill, by transferring responsibility for 17 year old offenders to Oberstown, will finally put an end to the sending of children to St. Patrick's Institution. Oberstown is the most appropriate environment for the small number of young people for whom detention is necessary, and the option to remand those under 18 years in adult prisons needs to be removed as a matter of urgency. The Government needs to expedite the completion of the Oberstown facilities and ensure the ending, at the earliest possible date, of the practice of detaining children in adult prison facilities.

The Government has dragged its heels on introducing this Bill, which was published on 11 May last, although the Government has been in office since 2011. I accept the Minister has not been in his current position for that long and was only recently appointed Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, so it is not all his responsibility. However, this delay has given the Seanad less than a day to read the Bill before it was introduced in the House.

The Bill repeals section 88(12) of 2001 Act, which deals with separation of children on remand and convicted children. This is an essential provision of the 2001 Act and a responsibility of Ireland under Article 10 of the UN Convention on Human Rights. It does not appear that this section is dealt with elsewhere in the Bill. Can the Minister clarify this? Currently, in general, detainment on remand is used too often for children and there are too many children on remand. This is reflected in the fact that only 27% of children on remand are convicted of an offence and the vast majority are not convicted. We need to be very careful devising any legislation that changes the rights of children on remand.

I seek clarification on how children on remand and convicted children will be separated in Oberstown. It is very important not to mix children on remand with those who are convicted so can the Minister clarify how, practically, this will be done in Oberstown and to what degree?

Section 88(13) of the 2001 Act ensures that children will not be placed on remand or detained for purposes solely regarding the care and welfare of the child. It appears that this Bill removes this section, which is deeply worrying. Can the Minister clarify if this important provision is dealt with elsewhere in the Bill?

Broadly, what are the plans to separate children on remand and children who have been convicted? We were previously told that Ireland does not intend to comply with this provision under Article 10 of the UN Convention on Human Rights by not keeping those on remand separate from those convicted. My research team and I have looked at this situation and we feel very strongly about it. I am sure the Minister will clarify the situation as it is a straightforward matter to separate both. From a practical point of view, if there is somebody on remand and somebody convicted, the influence of somebody who has been convicted on somebody on remand could be damaging to the child. This is why we are very concerned that, in the design and structure of Oberstown, this issue would be clearly addressed. When somebody is on remand, he or she has not been convicted and is innocent until proven guilty. It is very important that he or she would not feel that he or she was somehow being held as a convicted person as opposed to being on remand. Is it the Minister's intention to comply with the convention?

It is worrying that the Bill repeals section 144 of the 2006 Act, which gives a judge the power to defer detention orders. Can the Minister clarify that this provision is reinstated elsewhere in the Bill?

The main purpose of the proposed legislation is to enable the amalgamation of the three child detention schools in Oberstown, Lusk, County Dublin, and to provide for the necessary legal changes required to end the detention of children in adult detention facilities, which has been very damaging and which we will tease out in the debate on the Bill. If a child is retained for a further period after turning 18 years of age, it is very important to finish any courses that are underway. The Minister's officials might also examine the question of whether there is any provision for a visiting committee, even a small one from the Oireachtas, that would attend Oberstown regularly just to see that everything is in order.

As Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter, brought forward a Bill in the House whereby offences would be removed or purged after a certain period of time. The Minister and his officials might look at this situation. The idea of the legislation was that young people who got into trouble would be able to rectify their situation and get matters straight again. However, we must ensure that if some offence, such as a drugs offence, has been committed, this will not be held against them in the future and they will have a right to travel to the United States, Canada and elsewhere. If that offence can be purged after a period of time, it would give a great incentive to young people to lead a good life and to act responsibly so they would be restored to full, respectful involvement in society. As far as I know, this provision is in current law following Deputy Shatter's Bill, but the Minister might comment on that point.

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister and the Bill. In dealing with any aspect of children getting into difficulty, one of the concerns I have is whether, before they get into the court system, we have adequate procedures and supports in place for those coming to the notice of gardaí. It is an area in which I have worked in Cork for over 20 years, having been involved in facilities where a large number of the people would have dropped out of school at a very early age and would have come to the notice of gardaí. As a result of having a very good and comprehensive community garda scheme and garda liaison officers, those people have ended up coming into the training centres. In fact, when we reviewed how it worked out after they had left the centres and gone through a training facility, something like 70% of them were in full-time employment.

I am currently involved in another project where we have had quite a lot of difficulty getting adequate funding. We are catering for over 45 people who have dropped out of school, some of them as young as ten years old, but we are getting inadequate funding and the project is being run very much on a voluntary basis, with over 60 volunteers. In looking at the costs of any detention centre, my point is that if we were investing money at an earlier stage, we might have a smaller number ending up in the detention centres. The Bill implements a reform to which the Government made a commitment in the programme for Government. Having three detention schools managed on an integrated basis is a welcome change. The Bill also makes provision for dealing with remission of sentences for children in detention schools. In the case of Byrne v. the Director of Oberstown School, the High Court ruled that children in detention were entitled to remission. This welcome decision has been incorporated in the Bill, which also sets out disciplinary procedures to be followed in children detention schools. The legislation also makes adequate provision for children who have been held as a result of a court order and reach the age of 18 years while in detention.

As the Minister noted, the Bill amends the Children Act 2001, the Criminal Justice Administration Act 1914, the Criminal Justice Act 1960, the Criminal Justice Act 1999 and the Prevention of Crime Act 1908. It is strange that the last of these Acts has been in place for almost 100 years. I welcome the decision to amend these Acts following thorough research and a comprehensive review by the Department.

I understand Oberstown boys' and girls' schools and the Cuan Beag unit at Trinity House will be replaced by one unit to house children aged up to 17 years. The Minister discussed the various sections of the Bill. Section 10 gives the director of a children detention school discretion to keep a child in detention on reaching the age of 18 years. This provision currently applies only to children convicted on indictment. Section 13 deals with the amalgamation of the children detention schools, which is welcome. Section 14 provides that accounts and a final report be done when schools are amalgamated. The Bill also reforms a number of other areas.

It is important to ensure that detention centres also provide facilities to train young people in order that they do not re-engage in crime when they leave detention. Statistics on reoffending rates among persons aged between 18 and 26 years who leave prison were published recently. We must ensure every possible effort is made to help children detained in these centres to develop skills and acquire education in order that they can find employment or continue their education when they leave detention. For far too long, children who have been detained have graduated to the adult prison system. Anyone visiting a District Court will find that many of those who came before the children's courts three or four years previously have since progressed into serious crime and the adult prison system. We must work harder on this issue because we have not done enough to address it over the years.

The Children Act provides that it shall be the principal object of children detention schools to provide appropriate educational and training programmes and facilities for children referred to them by a court and, by having regard to their health, safety, welfare and interests, including their physical, psychological and emotional well-being; providing proper care, guidance and supervision for them; preserving and developing satisfactory relationships between them and their families; exercising proper moral and disciplinary influences on them; and recognising the personal, cultural and linguistic identity of each of them to promote their re-integration 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. This should be the principal objective of children detention centres. I hope the legislation will result in major changes in the long-term outcomes for children who have been detained in these centres.

As I stated, in the 1990s, I was involved in a facility where most detainees secured full-time employment subsequent to their release. I hope at some stage we will be able to achieve a similar outcome for those who go through detention schools. The Bill has my full support.

Photo of Jillian van TurnhoutJillian van Turnhout (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The Minister is always welcome to the House. I warmly welcome the introduction of the Children (Amendment) Bill 2015 and thank the Minister for introducing it in the Seanad.

Senator Leydon raised the possibility of arranging a visit to the site of the children detention centre. The Minister issued an invitation to members of the Joint Committee on Health and Children to visit the centre and we expect to make arrangements to do so in the coming weeks. To be collegial, I suggest the Senator discuss with his party colleagues on the committee the possibility of allowing him to take part in the visit on their behalf.

A significant achievement by the Government in the promotion and protection of children's rights has been the near complete closure of St. Patrick's Institution, which has been the subject of serious criticism over the decades for detaining children in the adult prison system. For this reason, I look forward to the publication of the prisons Bill, which will facilitate the complete closure of St. Patrick's Institution.

Before discussing the Bill in detail, I affirm my firm belief and commitment, as a legislator, to the internationally and domestically recognised principle of detention as a last resort for children, both committed and detained on remand. Detention as a last resort is fundamentally important to the welfare and well-being of children who have come into conflict with the law. I continue to be concerned about the numbers of children detained on remand who do not go on to be sentenced to a period of detention. This raises concerns that detention is being resorted to inappropriately - as a form of detention for assessment - in the case of children who have care or protection concerns. Children must not be criminalised as a result of inadequate care and mental health service provision elsewhere. While I have raised these concerns on a number of occasions with the Minister for Justice and Equality, I restate them in this debate.

The Bill facilitates the amalgamation of the three detention schools on the Oberstown site into one legal entity. The practical effects of this change will be the creation of a single management team, payroll, staff rota, etc. Crucially, with regard to governance, it will lead to integrated practices, operational consistency, coherence of model and the appointment of one director. The proposed amalgamation is critical to the success of Oberstown.

I am concerned as to whether the disciplinary system in Oberstown will be appropriate to the age of children committed and remanded to the facility. To express this in another way, will the facility be child friendly? Will the disciplinary system be distinct from the system in operation in the adult prison model and will it reflect the welfare and care relationship model?

The Minister kindly organised a briefing for Members yesterday, which was attended by my researcher, Ms Amy McArdle. Assurances were given that, in keeping with the child care model of detention, good order rules would be used to avoid disciplinary measures. Will the Minister elaborate on what is meant by the term "good order rules"? Perhaps these are rules modelled on best practice in juvenile detention in another jurisdiction. Is that the case? I would like to understand what exactly this phrase means and what is its basis.

I note in section 5 that provision has been made for part or all of the children detention school to be designated as a remand centre. I intend to consider this issue in more detail before Committee Stage. While I appreciate the intention to keep children detained on remand separate from children committed to detention to the greatest extent possible and where it is in the best interests of the child, I am concerned that we are starting from a point of non-compliance with our international human rights obligations, for example, in respect of Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Ireland currently has a reservation. The Minister will recall the concluding observation of the human rights committee last July that Ireland should establish a concrete timeline for the achievement of complete separation of remand and sentenced prisoners, juvenile and adult prisoners and detained immigrants and sentenced prisoners.

Finally, I call on the Minister to discuss with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, the issue of 18 to 20 year old males sentenced to detention who are now accommodated in a separate dedicated unit in Wheatfield. I wonder if, in keeping with the latest recommendation of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, IPRT, all agencies that comprise the criminal justice system should recognise the 18-24 age group as one with distinct and specific needs, with the cut-off age for accommodation in the separate dedicated unit extended to 24 years. The IPRT recommendation follows extensive research.

The IPRT report, Turnaround Youth: Young Adults (18-24) in the Criminal Justice System, published earlier this week, makes a compelling case for a distinct approach to this age cohort which, although it is disproportionately represented in the prison population, making up 9% of the overall population and 24% of the prison population, is also the age of opportunity with peak capacity to change. I recommend that the Minister reads this report and brings it to the attention of his Cabinet colleagues, given his remit regarding children and young people.

On the issue of spent convictions, my understanding is that the spent convictions Bill will already expunge the records for those under 18. Perhaps the Minister can advise me. I warmly welcome the Bill and will do all in my power to support and strengthen it to ensure that it is what we all envisage. It is very exciting and long overdue.

Photo of Marie MoloneyMarie Moloney (Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister to the House. I very much support the Children (Amendment) Bill 2015.

It is a serious flaw in society and a breach of human rights for young offenders to be detained with adults in an adult prison. That is why it was recognised that at St. Patrick's Institution, young offenders were in undesirable conditions. Reports have cited the use of force on the boys housed at St. Patrick's. They were stripped, heavily punished, bullied, intimidated and denied family visits by some staff.

In 2012, the Government promised to put an end to detention of under-18s in St. Patrick's and finally this is now coming to fruition with the amalgamation of the three children's detention school facilities on the Oberstown campus in Lusk, and the deletion of provisions and remand of children in adult facilities. I very much welcome this as a very positive step forward.

It is amazing that this issue was not addressed during the Celtic tiger when the country was awash with money. This certainly was far more important than the likes of the Bertie bowl, which seemed to be of high importance to the then Government. I am sure everyone here would concur with me that placing young offenders in adult prisons was no way to handle the problem, but unfortunately not enough other facilities were available.

I was listening to the radio during the week and tuned in to the tail end of a conversation about young offenders. The man who was being interviewed - unfortunately, I did not get his name, not that I would be allowed to mention it in the House anyway - said that two thirds of young offenders leaving prison re-offend. The reason he gave was that while in prison they looked up to and were influenced by the older, more hardened prisoners and wanted to impress them and therefore offended again when released.

Youth crime constitutes 15% of all crime according to the Irish Youth Justice Service, IYJS. It is best practice that detained children be engaged in education. It is their right to be educated and a young offender's misconduct should not disqualify him or her from this right. Detained young offenders are best in remand centres where education is provided along with the tools to learn new skills. The rehabilitation of these young offenders should be given foremost attention. The proper education and rehabilitation will ensure that on discharge, these young people will not be the victims of social exclusion. It will hopefully mean that they will go on to live fulfilling lives and integrate well with society without their past being a stumbling block.

Deirdre Malone, executive director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, pointed out that adult prisons are completely unsuitable for the particular needs of young offenders, a sentiment that was echoed by the new Ombudsman for Children, Dr. Niall Muldoon, who stated that rehabilitation must be a paramount consideration in the detention of young people.

There will always be a percentage of young offenders who will go on to offend time and time again. Nevertheless, we must strive to ensure that young people under the age of 18 for whom detention is a necessity get the best possible chance of rehabilitation and education while in detention. This hopefully will have a positive influence on them and will be the incentive they need to re-enter society and deter them from a life of crime. I welcome the provision that those who reach the age of 18 while in detention may remain in Oberstown if they are engaged in a certain education programme and if their remaining detention period is less than six months. This will avoid the necessity for them to transfer to adult facilities.

As we speak, the Minister for Justice and Equality is launching a new programme. The Kerry Diocesan Youth Service, KDYS, along with the local gardaí, recognised a need to realign the Garda youth diversion response to youth crime based on national youth crime statistics. Supported by the Irish Youth Justice Service and the Garda, the Kerry Realignment Pilot Project, KRPP, was initiated. Previously, the Kerry Diocesan Youth Service, in partnership with An Garda Síochána and the Irish Youth Justice Service, operated six separate projects all geographically tied to specific areas in County Kerry. The projects had no remit to operate outside these areas. However, since 1 June 2013, the projects are no longer tied to one specific area but have the capacity to engage young people in need of youth diversion provision from the entire Kerry Garda division area. The organisations now have the capacity to realign workers to where a need is identified. The Kerry service is the first of its kind in the country and highlights the benefits of different organisations working together to benefit young people. During the pilot phase they have supported over 700 young people with 101 of those receiving a service. This is an example of what can be done for young offenders in their locality by organisations working together to help them get back on the straight and narrow and avoid detention periods.

In respect of the youth justice action plan 2014 to 2018, could the Minister tell the House if this is adequately funded, how it is working and if there is feedback on it to date? The problem is that we always seem to fire-fighting in this country. We need to stop and examine the reason the fires break out in the first place, be it the lack of youth facilities, the lack of youth mental health facilities, or reductions in funding to provide these services. Of course, every organisation in this country underwent funding cuts and the youth services were no exception. However, although many like the Kerry Diocesan Youth Service made the most of what they had and continued to provide services for the youth, they simply cannot continue without adequate funding and cannot sustain any further cuts.

I know many people will say there is nothing for the youth to do but to go into the pubs and nightclubs and therefore be subject to the enticement to drink. This is where I would commend the work of the youth services and indeed the GAA and other sporting bodies on the work and time they put into youth activities. The KDYS has a fantastic youth initiative called the mobile youth cafe which visits towns all over County Kerry. These initiatives are invaluable and I commend the thousands of volunteers who work with youth programmes all over the country.

I hope some day some Minister will be able to enact section 12 and close down detention school facilities due to the lack of youths in detention.

Photo of Rónán MullenRónán Mullen (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The main purpose of the proposed legislation is to enable the amalgamation of the three children detention schools in Oberstown, Lusk, County Dublin, and to provide for the necessary legal changes required to end the detention of children in adult detention facilities. I am concerned to read of the report on Oberstown by HIQA, particularly the fact that it found that it was not always safe for children and that nine out of the ten of the areas assessed were not up to standard. I am glad these issues are being addressed, but it appears there are still some staff issues.

It is clear that we need to look at other ways of reducing the prison population, especially among our youth, and to provide more investment for areas such as mental health. In Germany and the Netherlands, 18 to 21 year olds can be treated either as juveniles or as adults depending on the seriousness of the crime, the circumstances in which it was committed or the personality of the defendant. In Scandinavian countries, sentence lengths are systematically reduced for young adults. There is much merit in this general principle.

I realise that Oberstown offers some training to children, but should the training be made a bigger part of the service? Germany places a big emphasis on vocational training for children in custody, and perhaps we can learn from this model. While Oberstown obviously has specialised teachers, other countries are moving towards the idea of getting what could be termed mainstream teachers involved in the process of boosting levels of education. The aim is for children to come out of the facility more rounded and more educated, and adopting such an approach could help achieve this goal. I would be interested to hear the Minister's thoughts in this area.

I was interested to read in the general scheme of the Bill that it would allow the Minister to prescribe limits for the disciplining of children detained in child detention schools and that certain forms of discipline would be prohibited, specifically corporal punishment or any other form of physical violence, deprivation of food or drinks, treatment that could reasonably be expected to be detrimental to physical, psychological or emotional well-being, and treatment that is cruel, inhuman or degrading. I would like to be hear from the Minister why these provisions need to be included in the Bill. Surely such discipline is already prohibited, or is there some technicality allowing it for children in detention facilities? That is a technical question, but I would be grateful for the answer. I apologise that I will not be in a position to be present when the Minister replies, but I will certainly check the record. I thank him for any attention he can give the issue, and I would be pleased if he could provide clarification on that matter.

Photo of Jim D'ArcyJim D'Arcy (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

No child should have to be detained in a detention centre. In an ideal world, all children would grow up to be law-abiding citizens who would make a contribution to society. However, unfortunately, that is not always the case. For a variety of reasons, some children are so unmanageable, and the weight of their misdemeanours so great, that there is little option but to detain them for periods. It is also the case that most of the children who end up in detention come from dysfunctional families and a poor socioeconomic background. In other words, they have not had a great chance in life. Many of the children in detention have been victims of neglect or abuse from a very early age. It is true that the majority of people from poor socioeconomic backgrounds grow up to be normal contributing members of society. This is often used as an argument against a special understanding of difficulties that problem children, or, more accurately, children with problems - children at risk - might have. This is not a tenable argument. Issues such as inter-generational dysfunction, poor early-years learning, little positive peer influence, bad diet and neglect and abuse are all factors in children's behaviour. There is no doubt that some children do not get a fair chance in life early on and this influences their behaviour.

A question that has long puzzled me is this: when and at what stage does a problem child become a hardened criminal in the eyes of society, a serial offender at the high end of crime, with seemingly no possibility of reform outside the detention system? There is a need for early intervention where children are at risk in relation to early years care and education. I know the Minister has many ideas about how early years care can be used to help children. I look forward to the roll-out of those ideas as much as anything else we may see in the next few months.

It is sad that the child is lost by three years of age. Therefore, the challenges are enormous. Questions must be asked as to how the penal system can sanction children and what form of justice is appropriate. If there is diminished responsibility or a non-formed sense of wrongness - in other words, a difficult challenge of free will and determinism - then the only appropriate form of sanction is utilitarian rather than retributive. This is a major question throughout the justice system, and not only with juveniles: whether to punish the offender in relation to the nature of the crime or to protect society. In that context, it would be fair to say that the detention of children is essentially utilitarian, in that it is usually done as a last resort in order to protect society temporarily. I know it can also protect the child from very bad circumstances, but, nevertheless, it is essentially a utilitarian answer to a social problem.

There is no doubt that the conditions of detention in Ireland are more humane than in previous times, and they continue to become more humane. It is true that remand and detention centres sometimes provide a better alternative in terms of the health and welfare of the children. However, it is important to remind ourselves that detention centres, like prisons, can be universities of crime. The proposals for a new type of centre must be highly monitored when they come into being, and they must involve a well-developed and structured education and training programme. There is a role for the education and training boards and the new SOLAS to ensure the centres are not seen to be completely divorced from the rest of society.

Photo of Kathryn ReillyKathryn Reilly (Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister. Sinn Féin welcomes the Bill, the aim of which is to ensure that children of 18 years and under will no longer be detained in the adult prison system, and, obviously, to amalgamate the child detention schools into one school at Oberstown with the aim of capitalising on existing reforms in the system. In part, the Bill owes its origins to a commitment given in the programme for Government to ending the practice of sending children to St. Patrick's Institution. For decades, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the Irish Penal Reform Trust and a plethora of international organisations, including the UN, have called 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 unsuitable for the particular needs of young offenders. This sentiment was echoed by the Ombudsman for Children, Dr. Niall Muldoon, who stated that rehabilitation must be a paramount consideration in the detention of young people. The Ombudsman for Children and the Irish Penal Reform Trust agree that Oberstown is the most appropriate environment for the small number of young people for whom detention is necessary. However, as has been mentioned by others this afternoon, concern was expressed about the findings of a report by HIQA published in February this year concerning two inspections it carried out in Oberstown in October and November 2014. Of the ten standards laid down, the detention school met just one in full, namely, education. Six standards were found to require improvement and the failure to meet three standards was found to be a significant risk. The three areas in question were single separation, management of medication and staffing and training. The isolation of any child or young person from his or her peers can be damaging in itself and the standards are clear that this option must only be used sparingly and for the minimum appropriate time. Others have mentioned the concerns about insufficient staffing, staff training and high levels of staff absenteeism which are also detailed in the report.

I agree that the detention of children must only be used as a sanction of last resort. The Children's Rights Alliance issued a report card which found that of the 96 children detained in 2014, only 27% received a detention order on conviction. According to the Irish Penal Reform Trust, this suggests that detention is not being used as a last resort and the Ombudsman for Children expressed concern that child detention is being used for other purposes.

I welcome the legislation before us and I hope it passes through the Houses swiftly. Going forward, it is imperative that the focus is on the welfare and well being of children and young people in detention and on the establishment of a progressive and humane system which allows them to reach their full potential.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister to the House to discuss this very positive Bill which has received a broad welcome across the House. It is very progressive legislation. It fulfils a Government commitment and also ensures that we will live up to the recommendations of numerous international reports referred to by Senators van Turnhout, Reilly and others as well as to the recommendations of the Irish Penal Reform Trust and the Inspector of Prisons in terms of the appalling conditions that persisted for a long time in St. Patrick's Institution for young offenders. The Bill is very welcome and I am glad it has been introduced in the Seanad. I thank the Minister in that regard.

The Bill has three key priorities, the first and most important of which is to deliver on the key programme for Government commitment to end the practice of sending children to St. Patrick's Institution. Second, it aims to provide a system of remission on an equal basis for children in children detention schools as for adults detained and, third, it aims to facilitate the amalgamation of schools and the achievement of greater efficiencies in children detention schools. The issue of the closure of St. Patrick's is of primary concern to us today and is the most progressive and important aspect of the Bill.

Clearly, the Bill must be read in conjunction with the prisons Bill, to which other Senators have referred. The general scheme of that Bill was published on 2 April and on 22 April members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality heard from officials from the Department of Justice and Equality as to the content of the Bill and some of its practical implications. I wish to address this particular point because a key issue is the timeframe in terms of co-ordination between the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Department of Justice and Equality in order to ensure that both Bills pass through both Houses swiftly.

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality was informed that the prisons Bill has the main purpose of facilitating complete closure of St. Patrick's Institution. We are all aware of the history of this issue. In 2012, responsibility for 16 year old boys remanded in custody or sentenced to detention was transferred from the Irish Prison Service to children detention schools at Oberstown. Construction on Oberstown started in 2013 and following reports by Judge Michael Reilly, the Inspector of Prisons, the Government decided in 2013 to completely close St. Patrick's Institution. We know that all sentenced 17 year old males who were previously in St. Patrick's Institution have now been transferred to a dedicated unit in Wheatfield place of detention pending the readiness of the new detention facilities being developed at Oberstown. We also know that all 18 to 20 year old males sentenced to detention have been transferred to a separate dedicated unit in Wheatfield. I understand that will remain the case for those aged 18 to 20, even after Oberstown comes on stream and after these Bills are passed. The Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality was greatly concerned to hear that there were still, as of Monday, 20 April, two 17 year old boys on remand in St. Patrick's Institution who remained there because they had been remanded prior to 30 March. I know the Minister made an order then allowing 17 year olds newly remanded in custody after 30 March to be committed to Oberstown but I understand that until this Bill, and particularly section 3, is enacted, it is not possible to transfer children remanded prior to 30 March from St. Patrick's Institution to another place of detention because the Children Act of 2001 does not permit it. Are those two 17 year old boys still on remand in St. Patrick's Institution or has that issue been dealt with now? Clearly that is a transitional question and I know that in section 3 of the Bill provision will be made for allowing for remands to remand centres as opposed to St. Patrick's Institution.

A number of issues were also raised about the timeframe for the completion of the new accommodation in Oberstown and when it was likely to be fully completed. We also had various questions which are probably not under the Minister's remit but are for the Minister for Justice and Equality in terms of the consequences for the building and what will happen to it. I understand that the facilities in St. Patrick's will be incorporated into the Mountjoy complex. That is a matter for the Minister for Justice and Equality. Questions also arise with regard to those 18 to 20 year olds who will continue to be detained in Wheatfield. Clearly, they are not within the remit of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs but these are people for whom particular issues of concern arise. They are a vulnerable population within the prison system. I was conscious of that on reading the report produced this week by the Irish Penal Reform Trust, Turnaround Youth, which deals with young adults aged 18 to 24 in the criminal justice system. That report makes a strong case for differential treatment of those young adults, albeit that they have reached adulthood, because they are a particularly vulnerable population who require some form of treatment that differentiates them from the more general adult prison population. Various issues arise with regard to particular risk factors for this age group, particularly for those who have a history of homelessness or drug and alcohol addiction. I understand that the Irish Prison Service will take cognisance of these particular issues but on a non-statutory basis.

Finally, I wish to address an issue raised by Senator Moloney a number of times, namely, rehabilitation and diversion of children from the criminal justice system. In common with everyone else, I absolutely agree that detention of children should be a measure of last resort. Indeed, the processing of children through the criminal justice system should be a measure of last resort. It is the case that for many of the children who have come before the criminal justice system, really serious social issues should have been dealt with first by way of crime prevention. I know from speaking to those involved in the Irish Youth Justice Service that the Garda Síochána youth diversion projects have very high levels of success. There are some very positive stories coming from the diversion system. The Irish Youth Justice Service has also supplied me with information on the typical issues which impact on its young clients. Those clients tend to be out of formal education, have anger control and substance abuse issues, behavioural and emotional difficulties, and poor literacy and numeracy skills. Senator Jim d'Arcy referred to family issues and certainly difficulties for parents struggling to intervene have also been identified. Again, I am seeking to have this addressed in the Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality but I am conscious that the issue of juvenile diversion is very much under the remit of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs now.

I thank the Minister again and welcome this legislation. When I started in practice, I represented clients as young as eight and nine before the criminal courts. I am really glad that we have moved beyond that system now.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Minister, Department of Health; Dublin North, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank all the Senators for their contributions. I do not intend to answer all the questions raised today. That will be better done during the course of the Committee Stage debate when we can examine in detail the various issues raised. I certainly would have great sympathy with the view that we need to examine and discuss with the Department of Justice and Equality the issue of 18 to 24 year olds. These are very young people who still have their lives ahead of them and who still have great potential for change. All Senators are agreed that the child care and welfare approach of our detention schools is the way to go. We should move forward with a child care model which is very different from the adult prison model. The Bill will provide the necessary amendments to the legislation to achieve the commitment in the programme for Government on ending the practice of detaining children. Senators are agreed on the value of those amendments.

I must take issue with Senator Leyden's criticism of the Government for the time it has taken us to publish this Bill and put in place this facility. He was a member of a Government that was in power for 14 years and which, despite having any amount of cash resources at its disposal, chose to ignore this issue completely.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

That is a reasonable response.

Photo of James ReillyJames Reilly (Minister, Department of Health; Dublin North, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I do not want to fight with the Senator. The Government has shown considerable commitment by finding €56 million needed to address this issue in the teeth of the worst recession this country has ever experienced.

This is the first time that a full Minister has been appointed with responsibility for children. Our children are our future but, as I am constantly reminded, our children are also our present. We want to make sure that present becomes a cherished memory of childhood happiness rather than sadness, which has been all too common in the past. I agree with everybody who said that detention should be a last resort and I share the concern that on occasion it is not treated as such. This is not due to malign intentions but because of a misdirected sense of protecting the child. I take on board the points made by Senator Burke in regard to increasing the resources available to head off trouble at an early stage. Much of this work is being done through youth outreach services, including youth cafés and youth clubs, which offer a safe place in which young people can socialise and come to terms with who they are as they grow up. The teenage years are a difficult period of life. I thank Senators for their contributions and I look forward to examining the issues raised on Committee Stage.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 26 May 2015.

Photo of Marie MoloneyMarie Moloney (Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

At 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 26 May 2015.

The Seanad adjourned at 2.15 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 26 May 2015.