I am pleased to present the Prisons Bill 2015 to this House. Its main purpose is to facilitate the complete closure of St. Patrick's Institution. It will repeal statutory provisions that enable the courts to order the detention of offenders under the age of 21 years in St. Patrick's Institution and also delete references to St. Patrick's Institution from the Statute Book.
St. Patrick's Institution was originally established in Clonmel early in the last century as a borstal institution for young male offenders. It was transferred to its current site adjacent to Mountjoy Prison in 1956. The Criminal Justice Act 1960 which gave it its statutory title made provision for the sentencing of offenders aged 16 to 20 years to detention in the institution.
As Senators, many of whom have campaigned on this issue, are aware, the detention of children in St. Patrick's Institution has been the subject of consistent criticism for many years. The report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Penal System under the chairmanship of Dr. T. K. Whitaker in 1985 noted that "the dominant features of St. Patrick's Institution for the majority of those contained there are boredom and demoralisation". The report recommended the closing of St. Patrick's Institution as soon as possible, stating:
Rehabilitation is not possible where the physical and environmental conditions are such as to nullify any personal developmental programmes. The facilities and services which a human and morally acceptable detention centre should provide for juveniles could not be provided even in a renovated St. Patrick's.
In his annual report for 2004 and 2005 the former Inspector of Prisons, Mr. Justice Dermot Kinlen, described St. Patrick's Institution as a "finishing school for bullying and developing criminal skills". The detention of children in St. Patrick's Institution has been criticised by the Ombudsman for Children, the United Nations 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. In addition, organisations such as the Irish Penal Reform Trust and the Children's Rights Alliance have called for the detention of children in St. Patrick's Institution to be ended.
The programme for Government 2011 to 2016 included a commitment to end the practice of sending children to St. Patrick's Institution. Very significant progress has been made by the Government in fulfilling this commitment. Responsibility for 16-year-old males remanded in custody or sentenced to detention was transferred from the Irish Prison Service to the children detention schools at Oberstown in May 2012. The €56 million development of national children detention facilities at Oberstown which I was honoured to bring to the Government as the then Minister for Children and Youth Affairs is almost complete. This development will increase the number of children detention places available on the campus to enable the transfer of responsibility for all children remanded in custody or sentenced to detention from the Irish Prison Service to the children detention schools.
In 2012 the Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, presented an inspection report on St. Patrick's Institution which raised serious issues and major concerns. The inspector reported that a combination of, among other things, weak management, the culture in the prison, inattention to human rights norms, prisoners on protection and the prevalence of drugs meant that St. Patrick's Institution had not lived up to the mission statement of the Irish Prison Service.
The inspector concluded that there was a culture in St. Patrick's Institution that resulted in the human rights of some prisoners, children and young adults, being either ignored or violated. In his 2012 report, the inspector acknowledged the efforts made by prison management to deal with the issues previously identified regarding St. Patrick's Institution and the improvements made. However, in a follow-up report in March 2013, he found disturbing incidents of non-compliance with best practice and breaches of the fundamental rights of prisoners. The inspector reported that, despite the best efforts of management, the culture in St. Patrick’s Institution had not changed and that the safe and secure custody of young offenders detained there could no longer be guaranteed. He recommended that the facility be closed, that prisoners be dispersed to other institutions, that existing staff be likewise dispersed and that the name "St. Patrick’s" be consigned to history.
In line with the recommendations of the Inspector of Prisons and to effect the changes necessary in regime and culture and ensure safe and secure custody, in July 2013 the Government decided to close St. Patrick’s Institution. As an interim step, which was required pending the opening of the Oberstown facility, arrangements were made for sentenced 17 year old males to be transferred shortly after committal to St. Patrick’s Institution to a dedicated unit in Wheatfield Place of Detention. This is an interim measure until they can be accommodated in the new children detention facilities at Oberstown. Males aged 18 to 20 years sentenced to detention are detained in a separate unit at Wheatfield.
The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs subsequently made the necessary orders under the Children Act 2001 to transfer responsibility for newly-remanded 17 year old males to Oberstown from 30 March 2015. However, for legal reasons, it has been necessary to retain St. Patrick’s Institution on a contingency basis for remands awaiting places in Oberstown. The courts have on rare occasions remanded 16 and 17 year olds to St. Patrick’s Institution for short periods until places in Oberstown became available. This is a rare practice which will cease following enactment of the Bill and the closure of St. Patrick's Institution. These children cannot be transferred to Wheatfield because section 88 of the Children Act 2001, which provides for the remand of children in custody, does not permit the transfer of remanded children from St. Patrick’s Institution to a place of detention. The Children (Amendment) Act 2015, for which the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has responsibility, was enacted earlier this year and is awaiting signature by the Minister. When operational, this Act will enable the full transfer of responsibility for children in detention to the children detention schools. The Act provides for the repeal of all legislative provisions which permit the detention of children in adult prison facilities. The relevant provisions of the Children (Amendment) Act cannot be commenced until Oberstown is ready to receive sentenced persons under the age of 18 years. This will happen when recruitment of staff for Oberstown is finalised. A number of advertisements in this regard were placed in the public arena, including one last week. When adequate staff have been recruited the legislation can be commenced, which I hope will be soon. While the Irish Youth Justice Service has experienced difficulty with recruitment, the necessary staff are expected to be in place shortly.
Two partial closing orders under section 2 of the Prisons Act 1933 have been made in respect of St. Patrick’s Institution. However, it will be necessary for the Prisons Bill to be enacted before St. Patrick’s Institution can be completely closed. The intention is that, when closed, the St. Patrick’s Institution buildings will be designated as part of the male section of Mountjoy Prison, which seems appropriate given their location. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy James Reilly, and I will give particular attention to the need for careful co-ordination of the commencement of the relevant provisions of the Children (Amendment) Act 2015 and the Prisons Bill, when enacted.
I will now outline the main provisions of the Bill, in respect of which some detailed work was necessary to enable the closure of St. Patrick's Institution. For example, section 3 provides for the repeal of certain enactments relating to St. Patrick’s Institution. The provisions to be repealed relate in the main to court powers to commit offenders under the age of 21 to detention in St. Patrick’s Institution and in the case of a custodial sentence imposed on such a person, he or she will be committed to his or her local committal prison and can subsequently be transferred onwards, where appropriate, to another prison or place of detention.
We have had to put in place transitional provisions.
Part 2 will enable St. Patrick’s Institution to be completely closed which I am sure everybody in this House will welcome. The main provision in this Part is section 6 which provides for the complete closing of St. Patrick’s Institution by ministerial order. The section also contains transitional provisions to deal with warrants for the committal or remand of persons to St. Patrick’s Institution which remain unexecuted on the date it is closed. They are all very normal transitional provisions one would expect to see in such a Bill.
Part 3 provides for the removal of references to St. Patrick’s Institution from the Statute Book. These provisions are contained in sections 7 to 22, inclusive. I might mention that it is proposed to retain the references to St. Patrick’s Institution in a small number of legislative provisions in order to avoid unintended consequences for the operation of these provisions, but that is just a technical point.
Part 4 deals with issues that have emerged in the closing of prisons. The transfer of detainees aged 17 years and in the 18 to 20 age group out of St. Patrick’s Institution required Wheatfield Prison to be closed and reopened as a place of detention. Some dedicated units were established there to accommodate the detainees transferring from St. Patrick’s Institution. When I visited, I noted that the new units were very different from the rest of the prison. Every effort was made in the interim to ensure Wheatfield Prison would be more satisfactory and age appropriate than the previous facilities in place in it. A permanent legislative solution is required to regularise the position. I, therefore, propose to bring forward an amendment to section 2 of the Prisons Act 1933 which provides that the Minister for Justice and Equality may make a closing order directing the closing of a prison or part of a prison. Members will understand why I must do this, as Wheatfield Prison was being used as a temporary solution at one point when we took on board what the Inspector of Prisons had to say in 2013.
Section 23 amends section 2 of the Prisons Act 1933. The proposed amendments have two purposes. The first is to provide that, following the closure of a prison, any outstanding warrants that refer to that prison as the place of committal can be executed in another specified prison. The second purpose is to address the position of persons on temporary release from a prison which has been closed. All such situations must be addressed in the legislation.
We are all aware that the path from St. Patrick’s Institution to Mountjoy Prison has been too well worn during the years. We must interrupt the predictable path of violence and crime and repeat offending progressing to further serious offending and committals in adult prisons. The unprecedented programme of reform in closing St. Patrick’s Institution and developing the national children detention facilities at Oberstown will allow us to place these young people in a secure environment that will offer them a second chance to be productive people who contribute to society. We will continue to develop other options for young people who get into trouble with the law because while a secure environment suits some young people, others can be helped in an alternative way. The Bill will allow us to place the young people who need it in a secure environment which I hope will offer them a second chance. The young people who were referred to St. Patrick's Institution in the past but who are now referred to Oberstown have a wide variety of needs and need a lot of intervention in order to help them to get that second chance and be productive people who can contribute to society.
I hope the Bill will be passed by the Dáil and the Seanad in order that St. Patrick’s Institution will finally be consigned to history at the earliest possible date. I commend the Bill to the House.