A Ceann Comhairle I wish to contribute to this motion from the Juvenile Justice aspect. As part of the Mountjoy complex, St. Patricks Institution dealing with 16 to 21 year old offenders is to close when Thornton Hall prison is complete. The Government has also decided to develop new children detention facilities on a State owned site at Oberstown, Lusk, Co. Dublin. The fact that we are at a relatively advanced stage in relation to the development of Thornton Hall with little or no progress in the development of facilities for 16 to 18 year olds would indicate to me that the Minister will have a significant problem on his hands by 2011 in that we will not have appropriate space to deal with 16 to 18 year olds. This scenario will have the Minister in direct contravention of both The Children Act 2001 which stipulates that all children who are detained must be kept in suitable detention centres and also the UN Conventions on the Rights of the Child. There does not appear to be an integrated plan in place to deal with the separation of juveniles from adults as we develop new facilities.
In an answer to a question I raised with the previous Minister on this issue of finally breaking the system of housing juveniles with adults, he spoke of “In the interim, 16 and 17 year old boys may continue to be detained in St. Patrick’s Institution” and used phrases such as “those who will continue to be held there pending the new development at Lusk”. This to me seems quite vague and displays quite a non committed attitude to the issue of developing appropriate facilities for juveniles.
“The development at Lusk, which is a children detention school model and not a prison, will require careful planning and consultation,” these again are the previous Ministers words. Careful planning and Consultation would again indicate that the Government have got it totally wrong and are way behind in developing the Juvenile facility.
Further in his response to my question the previous Minister has practically admitted that Thornton Hall will be used for Juvenile offenders in that he says
“Should it be required when the Mountjoy complex is closed, interim accommodation for 16 and 17 year old boys, segregated from adults, will be provided on the Thornton Hall campus, pending the provision of children detention school facilities. On completion of the detention school development project in Lusk, all children under 18 years of age being detained will only be accommodated in dedicated children facilities.”
This situation is totally unacceptable and goes against our own Children Act 2001 merely because the Government seems to be unable to plan properly. You have an opportunity to develop appropriate Juvenile facilities for this Century as part of an overall integrated Detention School and Prison package and yet you continue to run the risk of placing juveniles on the same campus as more mature prisoners, perpetuating the cycle that we have had here for generations.
I want the Minister to give clear indication of how it is that he proposes to proceed with the development of facilities for Juveniles, to outline a specific timeframe for the Lusk project, an indication of how this project can now be fast-tracked and run in parallel with the Thornton Hall project.
There is a distinct possibility that the continued pursuit of this project without integrating the plan for a specific Juvenile Detention Centre and its associated rehabilitative measures such as Education, Training and Restorative Justice will continue to perpetuate the mistakes that have been made.
The Minister cannot think that merely creating a ‘Super-Prison’ will cure all ills. We have a stack of reports such as the 20 year old Whitaker report, the 1994 report on the Management of Offenders and the 2002 report on the Reintegration of Prisoners by the National Economic and Social Forum all pointing out the same things. The continued pursuit of this project in this manner in relation to Juveniles will keep us in the trap of inappropriate accommodation.