Written Answers. - Juvenile Offenders.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

257 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the progress to date in providing an additional 20 secure places for young offenders; if he intends such plans to comply with the provisions of the Children Act, 2001; when and the location these places will be provided; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15237/02]

The Government decided on 17 April, 2002, on foot of a proposal submitted by my predecessor, to introduce a measure to address, in the short-term, a shortage in the capacity of special schools for young offenders under 16 years of age which are run by the Department of Education and Science. The Government decision approved the making available by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform of up to 20 places in St. Patrick's Institution, or other accommodation under the control of the Prison Service, for the reception of offenders under 16 years of age, subject to the certification by the Minister for Education and Science that the selected accommodation is a fit place for the reception of such offenders.

St. Patrick's Institution has been selected as the most suitable location for this temporary facility, given its proximity to the courts, its accessibility for the families of the children who will be accommodated there, and the considerable body of expertise in dealing with young offenders which has been developed by the staff of all disciplines and grades over many years. Extensive consultations and discussions are ongoing between officials of my Department, the Irish Prison Service and the Department of Education and Science on the policy and practical arrangements for the proper care and custody of children under 16 years of age. The Northern Area Health Board, the Special Residential Services Board and the Social Services Inspectorate have also been of considerable practical assistance in providing advice on the residential requirements of the children of this age group.

The new facility will operate in accordance with the appropriate national and international standards for residential and custodial care and will comply with the relevant provisions of the Children Act, 2001. It is intended that the facility will have self-contained living, education, counselling and recreation accommodation for up to 20 children under 16 years of age. Because the facility will be self-contained and will effectively operate independently from St. Patrick's Institution, it is necessary to construct a separate building alongside the residential wing of the institution to contain a dedicated education unit, a sports hall, counselling rooms, as well as other ancillary services.

I am informed that it is envisaged that the necessary site and fit-out works will be completed by the end of November at which stage the phased admission of the first boys will commence. In the intervening period, the recruitment of specialist staff will take place and the dedicated prison officers will receive specialised training in child care. This measure is intended to be time limited to a period not exceeding two years pending the coming into use of sufficient appropriate dedicated facilities.