Check Against Delivery

Prisons Bill 2015

Dáil Eireann

Second Stage Speech by Minister of State Ann Phelan on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality Frances Fitzgerald TD

Monday 14 December 2015

I move that the Bill be read a second time.

I am pleased to present the Prisons Bill 2015 to this House on behalf of the Minister for Justice and Equality.  Minister Fitzgerald is unavoidably detained on other important business.

The main purpose of the Bill is to facilitate the complete closing of St Patrick’s Institution.  The Bill will repeal statutory provisions that enable the courts to order the detention of offenders under the age of 21 in St Patrick’s Institution and will 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 present site adjacent to Mountjoy Prison in 1956.  The Criminal Justice Act 1960, which gave St Patrick’s Institution its statutory title, made provision for the sentencing of offenders aged 16 to 20 years to detention in that Institution.

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 for the majority of those contained there are boredom and demoralisation.”

That report recommended the closing of St Patrick’s Institution as soon as possible, stating that:

“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.”

The former Inspector of Prisons, Mr Justice Dermot Kinlen, described St Patrick’s Institution in his Annual Report for 2004 and 2005 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 by 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 to be ended. 

The Programme for Government 2011-2016 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 the Programme for Government 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 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 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 Annual Report for 2012, the Inspector of Prisons acknowledged the efforts made by prison management to deal with the issues previously identified regarding St Patrick’s and the improvements made.  However, in follow-up inspections undertaken 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 had not changed and the safe and secure custody of young offenders detained there could no longer be guaranteed.  He recommended that the facility should be closed, prisoners dispersed to other institutions, existing staff dispersed likewise and the name St Patrick’s consigned to history.

In line with the recommendations of the Inspector of Prisons and in order to effect the changes necessary in regime and culture and to ensure safe and secure custody, the Government decided in July 2013 to close St Patrick’s Institution completely.

As an interim step, 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 sentenced to detention are detained in a separate unit in Wheatfield.

Subsequently, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs 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 occasion remanded 16 and 17 year olds to St Patrick’s for short periods until places in Oberstown become available.

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 is responsible, was enacted earlier this year.  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 aged 17. This will not be possible until sufficient additional staff have been recruited. While the Irish Youth Justice Service has experienced difficulty with recruitment, the necessary staff are expected to be in place early in 2016.

Two partial closing orders under section 2 of the Prisons Act 1933 have been made in relation to St Patrick’s Institution. However, it will be necessary for the Prisons Bill to be enacted before St Patrick’s can be completely closed.  When closed, the intention is that the St Patrick’s buildings will be designated as part of Mountjoy Male Prison.

The Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs will give particular attention to the need to co-ordinate 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.

Part 1 of the Bill contains standard preliminary and general provisions.

Section 3 provides for the repeal of certain enactments relating to St Patrick’s Institution. The provisions to be repealed mostly relate to court powers to commit offenders under the age of 21 to detention in St Patrick’s. 

These repeals will have the effect of ending the separate categorisation of males aged 18 to 20 for the purposes of sentencing. Where a custodial sentence is imposed on such a person, he will be committed to his local committal prison and can subsequently be transferred onwards, where appropriate, to another prison or place of detention.

This section also contains a transitional provision to ensure the continued lawfulness of the detention of persons previously sentenced to detention under the repealed provisions. 

Part 2 of the Bill will enable St Patrick’s Institution to be completely closed.

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 St Patrick’s is closed. 

The section provides that, following the closing of St Patrick’s Institution, any outstanding warrants that refer to St Patrick’s as the place of committal or remand can be executed in a specified prison.  In addition, provision is made for persons on temporary release from St Patrick’s Institution on the date of its closing.

Part 3 of the Bill provides for the removal of references to St Patrick’s Institution from the Statute Book.  These provisions, contained in sections 7 to 22 of the Bill, are technical drafting amendments which are consequential on the closing of St Patrick’s and do not otherwise affect the provisions concerned.

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 those provisions.

Part 4 of the Bill deals with issues that have emerged regarding the closing of prisons.

The transfer of detainees aged 17 and in the 18 to 20 age group out of St Patrick’s Institution required Wheatfield Prison to be closed as a prison and re-opened as a place of detention. However, the existence of unexecuted warrants directing the committal of persons specifically to Wheatfield Prison meant that it could not be completely closed as a prison.

An interim solution was implemented to deal with this issue. Wheatfield Prison was closed with the exception of the gatehouse, which in law remains open as a prison. This means that persons can be brought there on foot of committal warrants which specify Wheatfield Prison before being immediately transferred elsewhere in the prison system. The main part of Wheatfield Prison that was closed was re-opened as Wheatfield Place of Detention.

Section 23 of the Bill will amend 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.  

The amendments have two purposes.  The first is to provide that, following the closing 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 situation of persons on temporary release from a prison which has been closed.
These amendments will deal with the current situation regarding Wheatfield and also any future prison closures.  

In conclusion, we are all aware that the path from St Patrick’s Institution to Mountjoy Prison has been too well worn over 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. 

This Government’s unprecedented programme of reform in closing St Patrick’s Institution and developing National Children Detention Facilities at Oberstown will allow young people who are sentenced to detention to be placed in a secure environment that will offer them a better chance – in the words of the Children Act 2001 – “to take their place in the community as persons who observe the law and are capable of making a positive and productive contribution to society”.

It is now a matter of when – and not if – there will be a final end to the practice of detaining children in adult prison facilities.  

I hope that the Prisons Bill will be passed by the Dáil and Seanad quickly, so that St Patrick’s Institution will finally be consigned to history at the earliest possible date.

I commend the Bill to the House.