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Zappone acts to end sentencing of children to adult facilities from Midnight

Statement by the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr Katherine Zappone

Thursday 30th March 2017

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr Katherine Zappone TD, has announced that with effect from Midnight tonight (Thurs 30th March), all young males under the age of 18 who are sentenced to a period of detention by the courts will be sent to Oberstown rather than to the adult prison system.
Such young people are currently sentenced to St Patrick’s Institution.
Minister Zappone stated:
“I am very pleased to announce that the Oberstown campus will commence taking 17 year old males who receive a sentence to a period of detention from midnight.
This is the final step to end the detention of children in adult prison facilities. Unfortunately, there is always a need for a small number of young people to be detained, and it is best that this is in facilities which have a focus on addressing the needs of these young people as well as their offending behaviour”.
Minister Zappone noted that this measure follows on from previous initiatives that have already been taken with regard to the detention of children during the previous Government’s term of office, and builds on the policy approach commenced by the Tanaiste, Minister Fitzgerald as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.  
Minister Zappone continued:
“Substantial progress has been made in this area in recent years and I am delighted to end the practice of detaining children in adult prisons.
The enactment of the Children (Amendment) Act 2015, on-going recruitment campaigns and the capital development programme in Oberstown have led to this historic moment in our youth justice system.
Putting children in prisons where they share facilities and encounter adults is unacceptable in a modern society.
This has been recognised by international bodies which have encouraged Ireland to take this step.
I wish to thank the staff and management of Oberstown for their cooperation with a significant programme of change in the delivery of what is a challenging but essential public service.”


Editor’s note:
The policy of Government is to end the detention of children in adult prison facilities and this has been restated in policy documents impacting on the operation of the youth justice system, notably:
·    the Youth Justice Action Plan 2014 – 2018;
·    “Better Outcomes – Brighter Futures” – the national policy framework for children and young people 2014 – 2020;
·    the current Statement of Strategy 2016 – 2019 for the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. 

This policy has had long standing support in the Oireachtas and among those organisations and people who actively promote the rights and welfare of children.  These voluntary and non-government organisations include the Children Rights Alliance, Barnardos, Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Irish Penal Reform Trust.  In addition, international bodies have also called for this policy to be fully implemented including the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner and the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture.

The Oberstown Children Detention Campus is responsible for males up to age 17 years since 2012 and are responsible for males aged 17 years who are remanded in custody since 30th March 2015.  In both cases, the responsibility was applied for new cases referred by the courts, and the same phased approach is being adopted with regard to the transfer of responsibility for 17 year old males who are sentenced to serve a period of detention.
All females under the age of 18 can be detained on the Oberstown campus since 2007.

In practice, 17 year olds committed to St. Patrick’s Institution are transferred shortly thereafter to a special unit in Wheatfield Place of Detention. A small number of 17 years currently in Wheatfield will not transfer to Oberstown but will be remain in the adult prison system until they complete their sentence or ‘age out’ – this process is expected to take approximately 9 months.

The Minister for Justice and Equality, at the same time as the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs makes the relevant orders, will make the necessary legal instruments to commence relevant sections of the Prison Act 2015, to fully close St. Patricks Institution and specify the last remaining part of St Patrick’s Institution as part of Mountjoy Prison with effect from 7 April, 2017.
Funding approval of c. €50m was confirmed for the Oberstown capital development project in 2012. The project involved an increase in the capacity of the Oberstown campus and replacement of some existing detention facilities which lacked in – room sanitation and have reached the end of their useful life.
The remit of the Ombudsman for Children was extended to include children detained in adult prison facilities in 2012.

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