This short and, I think, non-controversial Bill has three objects. The first and main object is to authorise the establishment of places other than prisons to help in the rehabilitation of offenders. The second object is to reduce the upper age limit for offenders who may be committed by the courts to St. Patrick's Institution from 21 to 19. The third is to enable offenders detained in St. Patrick's to be transferred to prison during any periods of overcrowding that may occur.
Section 2 of the Bill gives legislative approval to the "open" centre at Shanganagh. County Dublin, which was opened in August, 1968. This centre is for the detention of selected young offenders transferred to it from St. Patrick's Institution, North Circular Road, Dublin or from the prisons. It is the first "open" centre to be established here. Since its establishment, the transfer of offenders from St. Patrick's or the prisons to Shanganagh has been on the basis that the offenders are temporarily released subject to a condition that they reside in Shanganagh and comply with the requirements of the person in charge there. All in all, this arrangement has worked satisfactorily but it has some disadvantages, not the least of which is that a visiting committee cannot be appointed to Shanganagh.
Section 2 is expressed in terms which would authorise the setting up of other places of the same kind. It would cover, for example, the establishment of an open institution for adult offenders or a hostel or hostels within the community, rather than inside prison, to accommodate offenders on temporary release to employment. There is, however, no immediate intention of establishing any institution other than that already in operation in Shanganagh. There is a good deal of work to be carried out there before its full potential is realised. Much as I would like to provide a wider spectrum of institutions for the rehabilitation of various categories of offenders, it seems to me that the better course is to concentrate on completing the equipment of Shanganagh with proper facilities and observing the results before embarking on the provision of other types of institutions whose rehabilitative value has in many cases still to be conclusively determined.
Now, a word about Shanganagh itself. It has extensive grounds, there is adequate provision for games and recreation, and formal restrictions are deliberately kept to a minimum so as to foster a sense of responsibility and self-control. It has accommodation for 55 youths and the whole system is designed to encourage and assist the boys who are sent there to organise and control their own lives along proper lines. A good deal of experimentation is still going on and a full programme of training will not be possible until permanent workshops have been erected. Those workshops, which are scheduled for erection this year, will provide facilities for instruction in metal work and plumbing, car maintenance and repair, electrical repairs, building construction and painting, papering and glazing.
Section 3 of the Bill deals with the regulations which may be made by the Minister for Justice under the Bill. They are of two kinds. First of all, under subsection (1) the Minister is empowered to prescribe the age limits and the sex of persons who may be detained in places provided under the Bill. As regards these regulations, my intention is to prescribe age limits of 16 to 21 for Shanganagh.
Then, there are the regulations which may be made under subsection (2). These will deal with the management of these places. Here I should, perhaps, make it clear that there will be no question of applying prison rules to Shanganagh. Indeed the regulations I shall make will be as simple and flexible as possible consistent with the necessity for formally establishing guidelines as to what the purpose of the training and treatment of the boys there really is.
Section 4 applies the existing enactments relating to prisons and St. Patrick's Institution to places established under section 2 of the Bill. It is under this provision, for example, that a visiting committee will be appointed. The proviso at the end of the section is intended to ensure that the courts will not have power to commit offenders directly to Shanganagh. With "open" centres of this kind it is essential that an opportunity be provided to determine the suitability of offenders for "open" conditions. This cannot normally be done until an interval has elapsed to enable the behaviour of the offender in custody and the general background reports to be evaluated.
Indeed, notwithstanding the selection procedure which is operated at present in relation to the transfer of boys to Shanganagh, it has happened on a few occasions that after arriving at Shanganagh boys have had to be sent back to a closed institution because they could not resist the temptation to abscond. Even with conditions of overcrowding in St. Patrick's Institution, it has been found difficult, at times, to find a sufficient number of boys who could be depended on to stay in Shanganagh and to benefit from the regime there.
Section 5 deals with the machinery of transferring offenders to and from these places. It will be observed that the section does not enable the Minister to transfer from Shanganagh to prison an offender who was originally sentenced to detention in St. Patrick's Institution. Where such an offender has to be sent from Shanganagh to a closed institution, he may be returned only to St. Patrick's or to another "open" institution.
It has always been the law that persons sentenced to detention in St. Patrick's may not be transferred to prison unless they are reported by the visiting committee to be incorrigible or to be exercising a bad influence on the other inmates. As the boys selected for Shanganagh could not be said to come into these categories I think there should be no question of their being sent to prison if for some reason they have to be transferred out of Shanganagh.
Up to now I have been dealing with the establishment of places like Shanganagh and the various provisions specifying who may go there, how they are to be treated and so on. Section 6 stands on its own as a straightforward provision reducing the age of committal to St. Patrick's Institution from 21 to 19 years. I think it is necessary to make it clear why this provision is being introduced. It has been suggested that it might have been included simply to relieve the overcrowding which, unfortunately, has been experienced for limited periods in St. Patrick's during the past few years and that Shanganagh is being used as a kind of overflow from St. Patrick's to ease the congestion there. Both suggestions are unfounded.
The reason for reducing the maximum age limit to 19 is simply that some of the older inmates in St. Patrick's are liable to have a bad influence on some of the younger ones. Of course not all of the 19 to 21s are in this category, just as not all of the 16 to 18s are inexperienced. What the section proposes is that the courts will no longer be able to send persons of 19 to 21 directly to St. Patrick's but —and I would like to stress this—the Minister for Justice will still have power to transfer persons in the 19 to 21 age group from prison to St. Patrick's where he considers that they might with advantage be detained in that institution.
The object of the provision is, in short, to ensure that the rehabilitative influences in St. Patrick's will not be undermined by the presence of experienced criminals who might have a contaminating influence on others. Clearly any reduction of this kind in the maximum age of committal is bound to have some effect on the numbers but I would expect that a fair number of the less sophisticated offenders in the 19 to 21 category would be suitable for transfer from prison to St. Patrick's after the section comes into operation.
Incidentally, the section will not be brought into operation until certain reconstruction work at Mountjoy Prison has been completed. This work is necessary to ensure proper accommodation and segregation for the increased number of young offenders who may be committed there after the section comes into force.
This brings me to section 7. This section, too, will not come into force when the Bill becomes law. It will operate only during periods of overcrowding and, before the Minister may make an order bringing it into operation, he must consult with the visiting committee to St. Patrick's Institution as to whether a situation of overcrowding exists and for how long it is expected to continue. Provision is also made that the Minister may, during the currency of such an order—again after consultation with the visiting committee-amend or revoke the order.
Subject to these provisions, the section empowers the Minister to relieve any overcrowding which may arise from time to time in St. Patrick's by transferring some offenders from it to prison but he is authorised, by virtue of subsection (3) of the section, to transfer those offenders or some of them, as may be appropriate, back to St. Patrick's when the overcrowding eases. I should like to emphasise that I regard the powers which are sought here to relieve overcrowding as nothing more than a purely temporary solution and as being less objectionable than what has had to be done in the past on such occasions, namely, releasing offenders from St. Patrick's before their sentences had expired in order to make way for fresh committals.
The reduction in the maximum age for committal to St. Patrick's proposed in section 6 will provide some measure of relief when it comes into operation. It may be, too, that the present high level of committals to St. Patrick's will taper off, though it must be said that such a development would be contrary to a worldwide trend. Further accommodation in St. Patrick's will be available when the women's prison which adjoins it is moved to the place of detention at Marlborough House, Glasnevin, which is expected to be closed before the end of the year. Such a transfer cannot be expected to take place for a few years yet as Marlborough House will have to be demolished and a new women's prison built in its place. In these circumstances, I am continuing the search for a suitable site for a new St. Patrick's convenient to Dublin, though I need hardly say that the cost of acquiring a site and providing a modern institution on it is bound to be very considerable.
I have endeavoured to give a general explanation of the objects of the Bill and of the effect of its various provisions. I hope the House will accept it as a practical measure which is an earnest of the effort we are making, within our limited resources, to provide for the rehabilitation of the members of our society who have repeatedly come up against the criminal law. It makes, I believe, a useful addition to our legislation in this field but I do not regard it as by any means the final legislative word on the treatment of offenders, whether institutionally or otherwise. Accordingly, on the basis that the Bill is a useful and practical step forward, I ask the House to give it a Second Reading.