Children (Amendment) Bill 2015 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed)

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

Section 11 provides for an amendment to section 157 relating to definitions for the purposes of Part 10 of the Children Act. 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. 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 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 still 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, inclusive, 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 and 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 Children Act to provide for the making of regulations by the Minister relating to the remission of portion of a child's detention and the acts that constitute disciplinary breaches.

Part 3 amends relevant legislation to reflect that children will no longer be detained in St. Patrick's Institution and provides for the arrest of detained or remanded children in connection with the investigation of other offences. More specifically, Part 3 provides as follows. Section 26 provides for the definition of terms used within Part 3. 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 persons detained in St. Patrick's Institution from 16 to 18 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 persons detained in or remanded to St. Patrick's Institution from 16 to 18 years. Section 29 provides for an amendment to section 13 of the Criminal Justice Act 1960 to revise the references to the age of persons detained in St. Patrick's Institution from 17 to 18 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. It will also enable the arrest of children detained or remanded to St. Patrick's Institution or a place of detention pending the full accommodation in a children detention school setting of all children detained or remanded in custody. Section 31 provides for transitional arrangements in relation to sections 27 to 29, inclusive.

The 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. It also has regard to the principle of equality of treatment between children in the 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 the Members of the House for their support and engagement with the Bill. I look forward to our debate and I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the opportunity to speak to this Bill. We finally get to speak on it after all the delayed starts over the past two days. The original principle underpinning the Children Act 2001 was that detention should always be a last resort for children. As society has evolved over recent years and the past decade, practices that were once acceptable are no longer acceptable. I welcome the Minister's finishing up with the remark that this is about ensuring there is a child care model in detention centres for children under 18.

I welcome the fact the main purpose of this proposed legislation is to enable the amalgamation of the three children detention schools - Trinity House, Oberstown Boys School and Oberstown Girls School - into one central campus, namely, Oberstown, and to provide for the necessary legal changes required to end the detention of children in adult detention facilities. That is very important, worthwhile and right. I acknowledge the work this Government has done in bringing this to where we are today. Responsibility for 16 year old boys was transferred from the Irish Prison Service to the children detention facilities in Oberstown in May 2012. Boys aged 17 and remanded in custody to St. Patrick's Institution remained the responsibility of the Irish Prison Service pending the completion of the building project at the children's detention facilities at Oberstown and the preparation of the necessary legal instruments to transfer responsibility for this category of offender to Oberstown. The Oberstown campus commenced taking 17 year old males, newly remanded in custody, since Monday, 30 March 2015, which is another positive development.

We welcome the further work that needs to be carried out for young offenders, including facilitating Red Cross training in Wheatfield Place of Detention, focusing on rehabilitative resettlement of young offenders under supervision and delivering victim empathy group programmes in both Wheatfield and the children detention schools. Much of this would not have been possible were it not for the success of the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Fitzgerald, in securing the necessary capital funding to build this new purpose-built facility back in 2012, which I acknowledge.

Before I get into the contents of the Bill, in his own address yesterday, the Minister made remarks in respect of a number of positive steps that have taken place to meet the programme for Government commitments. One of them was: "A first recruitment process for care staff to work in Oberstown was completed in 2014, and further recruitment steps are ongoing". Will the Minister, in his wrap up, elaborate further on this remark in terms of the number of staff that have been through the process and the timeframe for their recruitment? This is something which I find quite frustrating. It is not just now and it is not just this Government's fault, but the length of time it takes people to be hired in the public service is quite frustrating. Will the Minister confirm that we will always have the necessary staff in place to man these facilities?

The issue of remission is important in the context of a recent judgment. The Prisons Act 2007 provides for the remission of 20%, and up to one third, of a prisoner's sentence for good behaviour. This also applies to detention facilities in juvenile criminal justice systems, such as St. Patrick's Institution. No explicit provision was ever made in law for such remission at the children's detention school at Oberstown in County Dublin. In the case, the applicant maintained that the lack of remission at Oberstown amounted to a form of discrimination contrary to Article 40.1 of the Constitution, which states: "All citizens shall, as human persons, be held equal before the law." The case centred on whether young offenders detained at Oberstown were entitled to remission in the same fashion as other prisoners and young offenders who are detained at St. Patrick's Institution. The judgment stated that the failure to afford young offenders in Oberstown detention school with the benefit of statutory remission rules amounted to a plain breach of the constitutional command of equality before the law.

The Minister has taken that on board in this legislation. That will ensure equality of treatment between children in children's detention schools and adults in prisons. The Bill makes provision for remission in children's detention schools, incorporating a new disciplinary process and an appeals process where the sanction imposed is forfeiture of remission.

Regarding the provision relating to the period of detention imposed by the court, the Bill provides that a child who is convicted of an offence cannot receive a period of detention that would be greater than the period of imprisonment an adult could receive for the same offence. The Irish Penal Reform Trust commented that while it is noted that the purpose of the section is to give consideration to the principle of equality of treatment between children in detention schools and adults in the prison system, and given the importance of the principle that detention should be a last resort for children, the trust recommends that the provision be amended to reflect more closely the spirit and wording of section 96 of the Children Act 2001, which provides that where a child is convicted of an offence and a period of detention is imposed on the child by a court the period of detention shall not exceed the term of detention or imprisonment that the court could have imposed on a person of full age and capacity who is convicted of such an offence, and may be less. It also recommends that the court should have regard to the age, level of maturity, the best interests of the child and the principle of imprisonment as a last resort in determining the nature of any penalty involved.

Our focus should always be on the use of detention as the last resort. We should channel our resources and efforts into trying to keep children and teenagers away from a life of criminality and anti-social behaviour. When children and young adults get involved in the justice system it is sometimes very hard to disentangle them from it. When young offenders become involved in the justice system they are often on an irreversible spiral that sometimes ends in Mountjoy Prison. There is a need for greater inter-agency co-operation. I again plead with the Minister to prioritise the final implementation of the Children First legislation and make inter-agency co-operation mandatory.

We should not talk about sending children to detention facilities and holding children on remand without also focusing on the lack of supports that are currently available in terms of social workers. Many of our social workers are seriously overloaded with work. Often the children who end up in detention facilities come from marginalised parts of society and vulnerable backgrounds. They are children who do not get the supports they require to have a full and productive engagement in society. We have seen the reports from Tusla, the new agency charged with responsibility for supporting children in vulnerable situations, and heard its new chief executive officer speak about under-resourcing. Every child does not have a social worker or dedicated care plan. Without the required social workers and dedicated care plan, the child can embark on risky behaviour and often on a life of crime.

This legislation is extremely welcome with regard to amalgamating the services that are currently in place. I acknowledge the work the Government has done to bring Oberstown to the current standard. What was good enough one or two decades ago is no longer suitable. I also acknowledge its commitment to the provision of care for under 18 year olds in the detention facilities. However, the issue is to get things right before that and to keep children away from a life of crime. Children in the detention school system will often have experienced 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 is one of the most vulnerable groups of children in Ireland and 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 detention school system invests its resources in addressing the challenges and what can be extremely challenging behaviour of these young people.

We have a duty to support young people leaving detention in their efforts to desist from offending behaviour through the provision of after-care, safe housing and support and to ensure that they do not return to the chaotic conditions which gave rise to the offending behaviour in the first place. It could change their lives and lead in turn to safer communities for everybody. In accordance with international human rights standards and particularly in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, custody for children should only be used in the 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 such a measure is only used in exceptional circumstances.

We must ensure there are adequate supports in place for children who are in care and for children who are at the margins of society. Often that means they are living in families that are living in difficult areas in our communities. They are not getting the necessary supports, including social welfare supports, and educational opportunities, and their parents are not getting job opportunities. One of the best things we can do to lift people out of poverty is help parents back into the workforce. The challenge in that regard, however, particularly for women and low income families, is the high cost of child care. That is something the Minister must address. If he can support families in securing economic stability, he will help to prevent many children taking to a life of crime or engaging in anti-social behaviour.

With regard to the appeals procedure for sanction, this section provides that a child on whom a sanction was imposed may petition the Minister, within seven days of being informed of the finding and sanction, concerning the finding or sanction or both. The Minister can confirm, modify, suspend or revoke the sanction and will notify the child accordingly.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust makes the valid point that it is unclear why the petition should be to the Minister rather than a child-friendly independent tribunal - for example, the Ombudsman for Children. Perhaps the Minister could examine this as the Bill progresses through its various Stages in the Oireachtas. We will have an opportunity to table specific amendments. I hope the Minister will scrutinise them according to the spirit in which they will be tabled to try to improve the legislation. As I stated, we welcome the legislation and acknowledge the work done on it but there is still a lot more work to be done to ensure that detention is the very last resort for children.

Sinn Féin welcomes this 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 in order to end the practice of sending them to St. Patrick's Institution. The Bill also allows for the amalgamation of child detention schools into one school at Oberstown, with the aim of capitalising on existing reforms in the system. Irish NGOs, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, the Irish Penal Reform Trust and many international organisations, including the United Nations, have been calling for many years for the closure of St. Patrick’s Institution and an end to the detention of children in adult prisons. There is unanimous agreement across the child protection and criminal justice spectrum on the importance and significance of ending the practice of detaining children in adult prisons.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust has pointed out repeatedly how adult prisons are completely unsuitable to meet the particular needs of young offenders. This sentiment was echoed by the Ombudsman for Children, Dr. Niall Muldoon, who stated rehabilitation must be a paramount consideration in the detention of young people. Both 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, both entities have expressed concern over the findings of a report by HIQA, published on 23 February 2015, concerning two inspections it carried out on the Oberstown centre in October and November 2014. HIQA found that, of a total of ten standards, the children detention schools met just one in full, that of education. Six standards were found to require improvement, and the failure to meet three standards was found by HIQA to present "significant risk". These were in the areas of single separation, the management of medication, and staffing and training issues. The Irish Penal Reform Trust is particularly concerned over reports that single separation was used due 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. An incident also occurred where up to seven staff members were involved in restraining a child in a manner that involved the use of handcuffs. The inspection of Oberstown detention campus by HIQA took place in autumn last year, and reference was made to the young person’s physical strength in a plan that mentioned the handcuffing incident. The head of care told inspectors that there was no formal review of the incident but that CCTV was reviewed, that five to seven staff were involved and that the restraint was “all over the place”. The head of care said that handcuffs should not be used within the campus. HIQA said at the time that it was not clear whether the service took any lesson from the incident to prevent it happening again and improve the safety and quality of the service. Some 30% of staff at that point had not received up-to-date training in behaviour management. It must be asked whether these are the standards deemed acceptable. The inspection also found that children were “not always safe” because best practice was not always implemented and that single separation was not a facility used as a last resort.

I welcome the Bill and that, finally, critical issues affecting young people in detention are being addressed. However, we must acknowledge the past failures regarding children in custody and vow to do all in our power to avoid a recurrence of such unnecessary traumatic experiences. The effects of single separation on children can cause lasting psychological impacts. Protection rooms were used in Trinity House, where a child was locked in a small room without natural light, while in other units children spent time in single separation in locked time-out rooms, in their bedrooms or in activity rooms. It is inhumane to put a minor through such treatment. Apparently, there was a variety of reasons for the use of single separation, including threats of suicide, being under the influence of drugs or concerns relating to threatening behaviour.

One child was locked in a room for 83 hours and 45 minutes over four days. Another spent 23 hours and 30 minutes over a two-day period in single separation, excluding sleeping time, because staff were concerned the young person had prohibited items and would not give them to staff. Shorter periods of single separation were also recorded, such as periods of 30 minutes when a child was smoking in school. Ms Jennifer Gargan, the director of Empowering People in Care, EPIC, an independent association that works with and for children and young people living in care, said at the time that the use of single separation of young people is “deeply concerning”. The group stated the report’s findings were “shocking” and that it was clear young people were not being given the opportunity to address their offending behaviour.

Under the Children Act 2001, the detention of children must be used only as a sanction of last resort. Therefore, the under-18s detained at Oberstown, and in the adult prison system, should, by definition and legislation, be those who have committed the most serious crimes and who present with the most challenging behaviour. However, according to the Children’s Rights Alliance Report Card 2015, of the 96 children detained during 2014, only 27% received a detention order on conviction. This startling figure has led the Irish Penal Reform Trust to suggest detention is not being used as a last resort and the Ombudsman for Children to express concern that child detention is being used for welfare purposes. We in Sinn Féin believe more frequent inspections and the regular publication of reports are needed if progress is to be monitored. This should be done to ensure the detention school is meeting its objectives.

Another aspect to child detention that must be considered is the lack of adequate procedures and supports in place for those coming to the notice of gardaí. It has been proven that in areas where supports do exist for minors who are exposed to violence or trouble in their communities, the effects of having those in place significantly reduce the number of children proceeding to getting into trouble with the law. We must start discussing the issues of early intervention and prevention. If we were to focus energy and resources on preventive measures and on providing support for our young people within our communities, the need for reactive measures would not be so great. The thinking and attitude must change with regard to how we treat young people. While I acknowledge that much good work has been done in some areas, quality community Garda schemes and Garda liaison officers need to be part of that change.

Recently I attended the launch of Picture Your Rights: A Report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child from Children Living in Ireland. The Minister, Deputy Reilly, was also present. The excellent report was researched by children and it was from their viewpoint and for children. Its intention is to inform the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs on the very real issues affecting children in Ireland today. It was compiled by children of all ages and supported by the Children's Rights Alliance and UNICEF Ireland. The views and concerns are representative of a wide range of young people from different backgrounds. The report pointed towards the fact that the 1,148,687 children in this State make up 25% of the total population and that we now have the highest proportion of children in the European Union. One in every four citizens is a child. These figures further emphasise the importance of investing in children for the future.

One spotlight area raised by children themselves was the desire for increased respect of our teens and their needs, especially within more disadvantaged communities. This leads me back to my point regarding the need for prevention and early intervention.

We must address the heart of the issue here. Young people feel disenfranchised and under-protected. The series of interviews conducted for the report evidenced young people's sense of abandonment in communities. One young person said:

It feels like the police are there to harass, not to protect you. Most trouble happens because there is nothing to do - we just hang around on a wall. In richer areas teens have more to do, more money and more space in their houses. The Guards are afraid of their parents. The Guards feel like they can get away with everything and they overuse their power. We need to get enough of us to tell them to stop abusing their power and understand that we have rights too.

We must listen to what these young people are saying. Government must pay attention to the loud and clear signals being sent. Today, we are discussing the effects and repercussions of children being held in detention and how best to deal with that reality but while going through this legislative process, we must keep at the forefront of our minds the fact that these citizens are under the age of 18 and that rather than treating them as criminals, we need to treat them like valued beings who have the potential to better themselves and reintegrate themselves into their communities if they are given a fair opportunity to change. I was particularly affected by the following statement of another young person in the report which, again, further emphasises the need for Government to listen.

You can't just throw us in the back of a van. They left me in a big concrete cell, freezing with only a pair of football shorts on. I want to ask the Minister, does she really know what goes on in our community, that some of us are being treated badly and verbally and physically abused. Do you care about the community or just your pay check? Juvenile Liaison Officers say they’ll help but they don't. That all affects you when you’re older; people look at you and think 'he wasn’t a good kid' and don't give you a job. Ever since I was a kid I had a bad temper but it's increased rapidly since the Guards started bothering us. I find it harder to control and it keeps building.

In the context of what we are discussing regarding the Children (Amendment) Bill today, these young people's comments are particularly poignant.

There are certain parts of the Bill we believe could be strengthened. We note that section 8 of the Bill amends section 149 of the Children Act 2001 and provides that where a child is convicted of an offence, the period of detention imposed on a child should not exceed that which the court would have imposed on an adult. While it is noted that the purpose of the section is to give consideration to the principle of equality of treatment between children in detention schools and adults in the prison system, considering the importance of the principle that detention should be a last resort for children, we recommend that this provision be amended to more closely reflect the spirit and wording of section 96 of the Children Act 2001.

Section 8 of the Bill also provides that where a period of detention greater than three years is imposed on a child, a court must give its reasons for doing so in open court. It is noted that before it was amended by the 2006 Act, the original Children Act 2001 provision contained an upper limit and did not permit a court to impose a sentence on a child that was in excess of three years. Therefore, we suggest that the proposed provision be amended. It is vital to ensure that the procedures that children encounter in detention settings are accessible to them in light of their age and vulnerability and often their literacy difficulties. While sections 17 and 18 make provision for the Director of Oberstown Campus to hold an inquiry into an alleged breach of discipline and to inform the child of the breach and the time and date of that inquiry, it makes no provision for the right of the child to be heard in such a situation but leaves it to ministerial regulations to prescribe the procedure. Given that forfeiture of up to 14 days remission, which is an effective loss of liberty, is potentially at stake, the underpinning principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child - to participate and to be heard - would require that the child must be given an opportunity to be heard and to respond to any such allegations in the first instance.

While section 17 does provide that the procedure relating to an inquiry may be prescribed by the Minister, we believe the opportunity to be heard is of such importance, both in terms of child rights and due process rights, that it should be included in the Children (Amendment) Bill 2015 itself. Where the sanction imposed is one of loss of remission, the reasons for the imposition of such a sanction should be recorded in writing and communicated to the child in ordinary language. The current section 201(2) of the Children Act 2001 includes an important prohibition on certain forms of discipline including corporal punishment or any other form of physical violence; deprivation of food or drink; treatment that could reasonably be expected to be detrimental to physical, psychological or emotional well-being; or treatment that is cruel, inhuman or degrading. Given the concerns expressed through the recent HIQA report as previously outlined regarding the management of challenging behaviour and particularly the use of single separation, it is unclear as to why this important provision which prohibits certain treatment has not been retained as part of the new section 201. New section 201B sets out a right of petition by the child to the Minister against either the finding or the sanction or both. It is unclear why this petition is to the Minister rather than a child-friendly independent tribunal, for example the Ombudsman for Children. While this is in line with the Prison Act 2007 in respect of adults, it does not take into account the potential vulnerabilities of children and the challenges which a formal petition process might pose for them. Given the existing remit of the Ombudsman for Children in respect of complaints of children in detention, it seems that a right of petition to the Ombudsman for Children may be more appropriate than a right of petition to the Minister.

Sinn Féin wants this legislation to move through the Houses of the Oireachtas and to be passed into law as soon as possible but we must get it right. It is vital the focus is on the welfare and well-being of the children and that this legislation is child-centred and makes the rights of the child a priority. We must create a system which is humane and progressive - a rehabilitation process which encourages all children to reach their full potential rather than a system which negatively impacts our future generations for life.

The next slot is for the Technical Group. Members offering to speak are Deputies Clare Daly, Mick Wallace and Finian McGrath. Members have ten minutes each. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Fr. Peter McVerry once said:

When I was working in an Inner City Parish, we priests used to say that we could predict, with 90% accuracy, which children would end up in prison when we were baptising them. The prison system is the only publicly-funded service available to the poor for which there is no waiting list!

Statistics from the Irish Penal Reform Trust show that prisoners in Ireland are 25 times more likely to come from and return to a seriously deprived area. Children in detention are particularly vulnerable with many having experienced childhood violence or abuse, family difficulty, poverty, mental health issues or learning difficulties. In fact, 40% of those under 16 in custodial remand have a learning disability.

There are some very welcome provisions in today's Bill, in particular, those relating to the amalgamation of the detention schools into one legal entity, the removal of references to St Patrick's Institution and the legal framework on remission for minors. The fundamental issue, however, is that we need to radically rethink the entire imprisonment or detention system in Ireland. The "last resort" principle, which is outlined in the Children Act 2001, is key. While it is enshrined in legislation, in practice, prisons and detention centres continue to pick up the tab for a wide range of social and health issues. A report by the Office of the Ombudsman for Children in 2014 found that remands in custody have been made on welfare grounds. In 2013, the annual cost per child in detention schools was €314,000. For many of these children, a more effective way of investing this money would be to direct it towards community-based supports for health and social care.

Advocacy groups such as Empowering People in Care and the Irish Penal Reform Trust, which work with children in detention, have found that the deprivation of liberty and the first-hand experience of the criminal justice system can have highly damaging effects on the well-being of an already vulnerable child and can maintain or aggravate existing trauma and other psychological conditions. Security infrastructure can also be intimidating to children. This is why it is so important that the principle of "last resort" is upheld in practice. Another frightening statistic is that four out of ten people who arrive in prison previously attended some psychiatric service. The Irish Penal Reform Trust indicated that of the 96 children held on remand in 2014, only 27% went on to receive a detention order. Therefore, nearly three quarters of children who are detained are gaining unnecessary experience of the criminal justice system and we can add to this all the children who are in there for other care needs.

HIQA's report published in February this year on inspections carried out at Oberstown in October and November 2014 found that out of a total of ten standards, just one, education, was met in full. It also found serious gaps in child protection, training, health care and staffing. In Fr. Peter McVerry's experience, in many cases we lock people up just to get rid of them. We do not really care what happens to them once they are inside. The idea of locking people away from their communities to punish and, I hope, rehabilitate them and keep society safe from crime is centuries old and well outdated. It is interesting that this incarceration model has survived into modern times without any real engagement with the question of whether it actually is the best system for dealing with crime. According to the Irish Penal Reform Trust, IPRT, Ireland systematically overuses imprisonment as a form of punishment. While the prison population on any given day is close to the European average, the rates of committal to prison on sentence, in other words, the flow of prisoners through the system, mean that Ireland has one of the most punitive criminal justice systems in Europe. I recommend Members read a book by the Jesuits entitled, Re-Imagining Imprisonment in Europe, which is really powerful and contains some wonderful ideas. It would be great if the authorities here were to read it because there is a lot to be learned from it.

In terms of reoffending, the figures in Ireland are startling, with 50% of those released back in prison within four years. According to the IPRT, 18 to 21 year olds have the highest potential for reoffending but also for reform. Once a child reaches the age of 18 years, he or she is no longer able to access the complaints mechanism of the Ombudsman for Children and actually has fewer supports. Mental health supports are also difficult to access after leaving the detention system. We have spoken in this House on numerous occasions about the fact that we have an enormous amount of work to do in the provision of mental health supports. The solution does not lie within the confines of a prison but in community based supports and social policy, housing, education, employment and families. It is the responsibility of the Government to develop policies that will tackle the cycle of poverty and crime. In Ireland the majority of people who are locked up are serving short-term sentences for minor crimes. What about the crimes that hurt all of society? What about corruption, environmental policies that will destroy the planet and the passing of neoliberal legislation that will further deprive those who are already deprived? One in eight children is now living in consistent poverty as a result of Government policies. How many of these children will end up in a detention school or prison?

Andrew Coyle, Professor of Prison Studies at London University, has called for the detention centres of the future to have strong links with the community in which they are based, with detainees having access to local resources and facilities which they would be able to continue using after their release, which would help their reintegration. Above all, the focus must be on detention as a last resort. According to Juliet Lyon, director of the Penal Reform Trust in the United Kingdom, "we must make prisons smaller - smaller in our minds, and smaller in number and capacity." On that point, many months ago the former Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Alan Shatter, brought the issue of Cork Prison before the House. He had some very progressive ideas on prisons and was stronger than most on the issue. It was a huge disappointment when the single cell occupancy option was not chosen in the redevelopment of Cork Prison. The argument was we did not have the money or the space to do so. If we were progressive, we could spend the same amount of money and use the same space but only have half the number of cells. It was not a progressive move to increase the number of cells in the prison. We replaced a prison designed for 146 prisoners with one which could hold up to 310. That is called penal expansion, not progression. Research has shown that if we provide more prison spaces, we will fill them. Prison numbers are more often dictated by policy rather than crime rates. The most obvious result of building bigger prisons is that we create a bigger burden for the taxpayer. That said, the position here is not nearly as bad as in the United States, for example, which has a prison population of over 2 million. That is partly because the prison system in the United States was privatised and powerful vested interests are strongly motivated to increase the numbers in prison. Large corporate business in America is lobbying for an increase in the prison population. Thankfully, bad as we are, we are not as bad as that.

I very much welcome the provisions included in this Bill which will bring about an amalgamation of detention schools and formally end the references to St. Patrick's Institution. There is, however, a certain irony in this debate because we are welcoming something that we really believe should not be in place. If we genuinely mean prison should be used as a last resort and that we should be striving towards a society where children are not detained anywhere, we have to step back and analyse how we have got to where we are and decide where we really want to go. It would be most welcome if we had no children in detention. We must learn from our past in this regard. It has taken decades of recommendations and commitments by successive Governments to get to where we are. I must point out that 30 years ago, in 1985, the Whitaker committee recommended the closure of St. Patrick's Institution, while 25 years ago Ireland signed up to the UN Rules for the Protection of Children Deprived of their Liberty. Rule No. 29 reads as follows: "In all detention facilities juveniles should be separated from adults, unless they are members of the same family". These are commitments that we have not abided by for decades and while Ireland is not a country that moves quickly on any issue, this must be a new record. The trenchant and repeated criticism by a roll-call of international human rights bodies have pushed us to this point. The UN 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 on Social Rights and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights have all repeatedly said Ireland must stop the practice of detaining children in adult prisons. It has taken us decades to get here because poor and marginalised children in trouble have never been high up the list of priorities. If children are disadvantaged in their early years, that disadvantage will follow them throughout their lives. We should mark it, given that we are approaching the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the State and the aspiration to treat all children of the nation equally. Part of the problem has been identified by penal reformers. If we really believe the goal should be prevention, we need a long-term strategy, with steady and sustained intervention throughout a child's life. Unfortunately, a child's life does not neatly fit with the five year term of a Government, which is why this issue has fallen off the list. If we are saying it needs to be prioritised, an overarching strategy that deals with children's lives rather than one that fits with electoral and Government terms has to be developed.

The 2001 Children Act provided that children should be detained in detention schools up to the age of 16 years and in detention centres between the ages of 16 and 18. Detention centres for children were to be places suitable for the detention of minors in that age category. In that context, an adult prison could never be suitable, but we continued to place children there until March this year.

I am very glad that we have relatively recently ended the practice of remanding children to St. Patrick's Institution, but it has been a very long journey. Why did it take that long to finish the work on the Oberstown facility? The cost of the facility was about €56 million, but it has taken since March 2008 to have it built. I fully appreciate the blame does not lie on the shoulders of the Government alone, although the former Minister for Justice and Equality on his appointment after the general election put the project on hold. However, it is good that we are where we are. When talking about vulnerable young people at a stage in their lives that will leave deep scars, one day is too long, not to mention the fact that getting to where we are with the Oberstown facility has taken the best part of a decade. It is about prioritising young people. We have to analyse that issue. It is a bit of a coincidence that the €56 million it took to build the Oberstown facility is €3 million less than the €59 million the State paid out in claims to members of the public who were victims of Garda malpractice. It took seven years to find €56 million for this project, but we were able to find €4 million overnight for the IBRC commission of investigation. We were obviously very glad that the commission was set up, but it would not have been needed if the Minister for Finance had done his job and answered the questions he was asked in the first place. Therefore, we can find money when we need to do so, but in other instances we cannot. That is not good enough. We need to learn from the lessons of the past.

Other Deputies have mentioned that only 27% of children who had been on remand went on to be sentenced and placed in detention in 2013. Sadly, that figure increased to 45% in 2014. We need to step back and ask why they were detained. The issue that has been highlighted of remanding children for breach of bail conditions needs serious review. As the Irish Penal Reform Trust has pointed out, no support or supervision is provided for children while on bail. Perhaps it is unsurprising, therefore, that many failed to comply with the bail conditions imposed. When they fail to comply with these conditions, they end up being placed in detention on remand, often for lengthy pre-trial periods, which is a very serious issue.

Even if we leave aside the issue of children over 17 years, Deputy Mick Wallace and others have pointed out that four in ten of the children under 16 in custody on remand have an intellectual disability. The 2007 study of children in detention found that they most often came from families with at least one other member with a criminal conviction. The majority present with a history of behavioural problems, mental health difficulties and often drug and other substance abuse since early childhood. They are really vulnerable. How have we treated vulnerable young people in the lifetime of this Dáil? The statistics show that poor children and single parents have been the biggest victims of the cuts. We know about the cuts to the numbers of SNAs and special resource teachers who would help many of these children in their early developing years. Barnardos pointed to the need to invest an extra €100 million to ensure primary schools were genuinely free. If we are serious about dealing with young people in detention, we must start with the conditions into which they are born and the education and health care services they receive to fulfil their potential.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which we ratified in 1992 states the detention of children should be a last resort and for the shortest possible period of time. Last year 132 children were sent to detention schools. In Sweden which has a population twice the size of Ireland's only 119 individuals aged between 15 and 18 years were sent to a detention school in 2014. Sweden does not allow anybody under the age of 15 years to be detained and in 2013 closed four of its prisons, even though there had been no reduction in crime. We need to develop such an approach.

I am concerned that the Bill removes the upper limit in the 2001 Act of three years in detention for children. This provision must be removed. As previous speakers mentioned, instead of providing more spaces in detention facilities or moving children from one detention facility to another, our focus should be on preventing children from being sent to detention centres in the first place. As Deputy Mick Wallace highlighted, where the Irish system regards a person who receives a custodial sentence negatively as an offender, other countries emphasise that sentenced individuals are citizens who are primarily regarded as people with needs and who need to be helped.

While we are all very glad that we are ending the practice of putting children in adult jails, we also need to end the practice of putting children in any form of detention centre. We should move towards having far fewer adults incarcerated, except in very exceptional circumstances.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this urgent and important debate on the Children (Amendment) Bill 2015. I warmly welcome the debate because the protection of children, including those in detention, is a major issue for Irish society, particularly if we want a fairer and just society. It is also linked closely with the equality issue and total respect for the rights of all children. When we hear all the talk about recovery, my agenda is always fair recovery built on social justice; otherwise it is just hollow.

When dealing with the issue of detention, we need to look in depth at poverty, educational disadvantage, dysfunctional families, violent families, alcohol and drug-fuelled families. They are also key in this debate and on the future of people in detention. The children of the families in question are often the ones who turn up in prisons and detention centres. We need to face these realities. Ignoring these factors leads to a flawed analysis of why so many children end up in detention. This is something we often fail to do. There is also a stronger link. Children who come from violent and dysfunctional families are often the ones who are hurt and damaged between the ages of two and four years. The damage has already been done and the seeds sown. They are often the children who end up in detention. I will deal with these issues in more detail.

The Children (Amendment) Bill allows for the three children detention schools in Ireland to be managed on an integrated basis, which I welcome. The Bill also allows for the amalgamation or closure of a children detention school. It looks at the issue of remission for children in detention following a 2013 High Court decision, as well as disciplinary procedures and sanctions in children detention centres. In discussing legislation we need to carry out an in-depth analysis. We also need to focus on children living in poverty and dysfunctional families. Some 138,000 children are living in poverty. The level of consistent poverty has increased from 6.8% in 2008 to 11.7% today. Some 37,000 children will be living in poverty in 2020. A total of 1,054 children are homeless. These are not out-of-control figures but ones we can target. It is up to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to focus on these issues.

One of my colleagues spoke about prevention, a very important word when dealing with this issue.

The Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, of which Deputy Stanton and I are members, is currently examining the effects on communities of gangland crime. It is also examining, and has received submissions on, the impact of this on children. The sad reality is that children are being used by criminal gangs to transport drugs and carry out criminal acts. There is also massive intimidation of residents in some areas, with many families and children being forced out of their homes, many of which are burned down. We regularly see on our television screens reports of shootings relating to gangland killings related, in the main, to the pursuit of drug debts. If a person owes €1,000 or €1,500, it can cost him or her his or her life. One can only imagine the impact of this on those children and how it will affect them into the future. It is important in the context of our analysis of this legislation today that we focus on these types of issues.

We also need to up our game in regard to the exploitation of children by modern society. We must protect children and ensure they can live out their childhoods and are not pushed into adolescence too quickly by modern society. Sadly, this is not the case. Last night I attended a public meeting in my constituency in regard to the proposed location of a sex shop across the road from a local primary school in Drumcondra. Many parents are concerned about this proposal and the increasing early sexualisation of children. I raise this issue in the context of exploitation of children. While the opening of this shop is not in contravention of existing planning laws, many people believe it is abhorrent that a retail unit of this nature can be sited at the end of a residential street and within view of a primary school. This issue requires urgent assessment of the current planning laws that allow adult shops to be classified in the same way as any other retail outlet and allows for the location of such shops in residential areas. The location of a sex shop across the road from a national school is unacceptable. Young children will have to pass this shop on the way to school or on the way to the local playground. Many parents are concerned that sexualisation of children is now happening at a very young age. This issue is linked to the debate on the exploitation of children, which leads to children being hurt and damaged into the future.

I welcome this legislation and believe it is a positive development. It provides for the amalgamation of the three children detention schools into one entity and underpins the legal authority of the campus manager. It will also allow for coherence in the direction and consistency of practices between the three children detention schools. This amending Bill is vital to the successful integration of the three schools. The removal of references to St. Patrick's Institution is also welcome. However, it is also vital to reiterate the principle that detention, including detention on remand, is a last resort for children and must never be used for care or welfare purposes. It is important to stress that detention should always be a last resort. This is a clear requirement of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and is reflected in sections 88(10) and 96 of the Children Act 2001, as amended. It is important we also focus on these issues.

Further, while the children detention schools are annually inspected by HIQA, the standards and criteria for children detention schools were issued in 2004, adopted in 2008 but have not been revised since. Many people, including the Irish Penal Reform Trust, have recommended that these standards be reviewed to ensure they adhere to current best practice. These are important issues to highlight in the context of the debate on this Bill.

In regard to the integrated campus, staff of children detention schools have raised concerns about the proposal to integrate 17 year old boys into the Oberstown school. A 2012 report from the Irish Youth Justice Service outlined some of these concerns and responses from the management. Sections 4 and 5, which relate to the extension of the relationship model of child care to all children under 18 years of age, was supported by the Irish Youth Justice Service and acknowledged as positive by the staff. The single bedroom occupancy concept is supported by most people, particularly the Irish Youth Justice Service. However, concern was expressed that the relationship model in the children detention schools could be changed or diluted as older boys came on stream. Some staff believe that the increased number of 17 year olds could take up a lot of available resources, to the detriment of younger children.

As I said, I welcome this legislation. I ask the Minister to focus on the issues I have raised. We need to focus on early intervention and to push this agenda and hammer it home. In regard to the 138,000 children living in poverty, this issue must be prioritised in the context of the budget. In seeking to prioritise it, the Minister will have my support and that of many Members of this House. We need to face the reality in terms of the need to tackle educational disadvantage and poverty issues. If we do not intervene earlier to address the issue of dysfunctional, violent families, we cannot expect four or five year olds from those families to have a normal childhood. That is never going to happen. Children from these families will end up in the detention centres about which we are now speaking if we do not intervene earlier to address their needs.

I welcome this legislation which, as I said, is a positive development.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this important Bill. I am very interested in this subject. In my view, one of the most important Departments is the Department of Children and Youth Affairs in terms of its work and planning into the future in respect of children and young people. It is important that Department is well resourced.

I have listened to most of the debate on this Bill thus far. Many previous speakers spoke about the need for prevention, early intervention and so on. I do not think anyone could disagree with what has been said in this regard. All our youth services, including Youth Work Ireland, Foróige and so on, need to be resourced and beefed up because, as they operate on the front line in this area, they can do a great deal in terms of early intervention to prevent young people getting into a life of crime and so on.

I must also mention an issue with which some of my colleagues may not be in agreement. A 17 year old out of control in a community can make life miserable for everyone, including himself, living in that community. We must not forget the victims of the crimes of young people and how intimidating they can be for citizens, householders and communities. Deputy Finian McGrath, who is no longer in the House, referred to that. The State cannot sit back and allow this type of behaviour to carry on. I accept we need to intervene at an earlier stage and prevent this type of behaviour, if we can. Reference was made to children in detention. Detention should be the last resort and the only alternative at a particular point in time taking into account the safety of citizens and the young people concerned. There is need for balance in this debate.

In 2012, the then Minister for Children and Youth Affairs signed a ministerial order to bring prisons and places of detention within the remit of the Ombudsman for Children, thus enabling him or her to inspect and report on such institutions. The Health Information and Quality Authority and Inspector of Prisons also inspects and reports on these institutions. I accept that there are areas in respect of which we have to do better. That the objective of this legislation is to move in that direction is welcome and positive.

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Reilly, is in charge of one of the most important Departments. It is a Department with huge potential for the youth sector. The Youth Work Act was passed in 2001. It has not been developed at all. The National Youth Work Development Plan 2006 has not been developed either. We need to move on these issues.

Debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended at 2.30 p.m. and resumed at 3 p.m.