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Adjournment Debate. - Juvenile Offenders.

Tuesday, 3 December 2002

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 558 No. 4

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[967]Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore Thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, for permitting me to raise the decision by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to close Shanganagh Castle open centre for young male offenders aged between 16 and 21 years. The facility is located in my constituency. I am disappointed the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is not here in person to respond to the matter raised on the Adjournment. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform appears to be spending more time doing the job of other Ministers than applying himself to his own brief.

His decision to close Shanganagh Castle is one of the most short-sighted to have been made in a long time and shows very little understanding by him of the need for rehabilitation of young offenders. The Minister is justifying this decision – the Taoiseach justified it on the same grounds – by reference to the low number of inmates who are accommodated at Shanganagh Castle and the relatively high cost of the accommodation. It currently houses 16 inmates even though it has a capacity of 60. The reason for the low numbers is very simple, it has been deliberately run down. I challenge the Minister on his decision.

There are 400 young male offenders aged between 16 and 21 who are now accommodated mainly in closed centres in the prison system. I do not accept that there is not at least 10% of these who would be suitable for accommodation in Shanganagh Castle. That is what we are talking about in order to maintain this facility at full capacity. Indeed, nine of the young offenders are already in an open facility for adults in Shelton Abbey. I do not see why, if an open facility for adults is suitable for young offenders, the actual facility for young offenders ought not to be available to them.

In response to a Dáil question last week, the Minister stated that the average cost of a young offender in Shanganagh Castle is €127,000 while the average cost in the rest of the prison system is €79,000. It is, of course, going to be more expensive if the numbers are kept at a third of the capacity of the facility. If it is allowed to operate to its full capacity then the numbers are turned around. In fact, on a financial basis it becomes a much more cost effective method of detaining and rehabilitating young offenders, and that is not taking into account the value one places on rehabilitation which appears to have a very low priority in the Minister's consideration of this issue.

Since the Minister is interested in making comparisons, let me offer him some others. Since this facility was opened in 1969, no young offender has committed suicide nor has there been a case of serious self-mutilation. No other facility in the rest of the penal system can claim such a record. I also ask the Minister to compare the success rate of this facility in regard to rehabilitation. I would like him to compare the number of repeat [968] offenders in Shanganagh Castle with any of the other penal institutions in the country. He will find that, by and large, those who have come through Shanganagh Castle have not re-offended. That claim cannot be made for any other facility. Let us also compare it in terms of local community support. If one was to try and open such a centre, it would, most likely, meet with resistance from the local community. Yet, here is a facility which enjoys local community support. A further point in support of Shanganagh Castle is that the excellent education facilities provided by the County Dublin VEC are not provided elsewhere in the prison system.

I advise any Fianna Fáil land speculator who may be eyeing up this land for purchase to stay away from it. This facility constitutes part of the green belt between Shankill and Bray. A big financial killing will not be made on the sale of the 24 acres of land on which this facility is located, even if it is sold, because there would be enormous local resistance to these lands being developed for any other purpose.

Minister of State at the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Mr. N. Ahern): Information on Noel Ahern Zoom on Noel Ahern I am standing in for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and I apologise for him not being here. This matter was raised last week and Deputy Gilmore is already in possession of much of the information relating to it.

On behalf of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, I wish to clarify the position in relation to the open detention centre at Shanganagh Castle, Shankill, County Dublin. Shanganagh Castle was opened in 1969 as an open detention centre for males aged between 16 and 21 years of age. The centre, which stands on grounds of 24 acres, has dormitory accommodation for 60 inmates, so it would not be deemed to be modern accommodation. However, it has been increasingly difficult to identify young male offenders suitable for this type of open prison accommodation.

Shanganagh Castle had an average offender occupancy of 30 inmates last year and this has fallen this year. There were as few as 16 inmates being detained there recently. In addition, the full implementation of the provisions of the Children Act, 2001, means that 16 and 17 years old inmates must be completely segregated in the prison system, resulting in a further drop in those offenders who might be found suitable for transfer to Shanganagh Castle. I do not know if that is something on which people reflected when that legislation was being passed, but it is a consequence of it. The annual cost of keeping an offender at Shanganagh Castle in 2001 was €127,000, which is significantly higher than the average overall cost per prisoner of €79,000 in the same year. I accept that those figures can be a bit twisted.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform rejects suggestions that there has been a deliberate policy of under-utilising Shanganagh Castle over recent years. While there is a con[969] siderable number of persons aged between 16 and 21 years currently detained in closed prison institutions, it is misleading to imply that all, or a significant number, would be eligible or suitable for a transfer to Shanganagh Castle. I note the comments made by Deputy Gilmore. There is a certain logic in what he says, if it is true that there are people of that age in another open prison. I will convey that information to the Minister. I do not have an answer for that at present.

A variety of initiatives were taken to increase the number of inmates in the centre. Among these were the implementation of new procedures for dealing with assessments of candidates for Shanganagh Castle. However, many offenders in this age group are either unsuitable or are not eligible for a transfer to the centre for various reasons. In addition, offenders are often unwilling to transfer to Shanganagh Castle, an important consideration in an open detention centre.

In view of the very considerable decline in the number of young offenders found suitable for transfer to Shanganagh Castle in recent years, the Irish prisons service established a group to examine the options for its continued use as a detention centre. While the report of the group identified an increase in the upper age limit of offenders as one option, they also recognised that “if none of the recommended options were considered viable then, as the current regime at Shanganagh Castle cannot be justified on operational or financial grounds, the closure of the castle and the subsequent disposal of the site will have to be considered”.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform asked me to stress that he recognises the important service that Shanganagh Castle and its staff have given to the prison system, in particular in terms of dealing with juvenile offenders, over the years. However, having carefully considered this report, the centre's current viability, and the options available for its future use, it is the Minister's intention to close it in order to make more effective use of prisons service staffing and other resources, and to release funds through the sale of Shanganagh Castle to be re-invested in the prisons service more effectively.

The small number of inmates currently in Shanganagh Castle can be accommodated elsewhere in the prison system without difficulty. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform believes that the needs of offenders in this age category can be adequately met elsewhere in the prison system, in particular in St. Patrick's Institution. This institution, which currently houses offenders in the same age category as Shanganagh Castle, has introduced important new programmes over the past two years for the rehabilitation of offenders, including a positive sentence management programme. In addition, a successful drug-free wing with 76 spaces has been in operation in St. Patrick's since November 2000. This wing allows inmates who do not have a background of drug abuse and those who have demon[970] strated a desire to stop taking drugs to be detained in a drug-free and secure environment. A study conducted by the European Conference on Drugs and HIV-AIDS Services in Prisons indicated that St. Patrick's Institution was an example of best practice in the area of drug policy in establishments of its type.

Closure of Shanganagh Castle will also necessitate the re-assignment of its complement of 43 Prisons Service staff to other institutions. The terms of such re-assignments will be the subject of discussions with the Prison Officers' Association. Discussions will also be necessary with the County Dublin Vocational Education Committee in regard to the position of the full-time and part-time teachers at Shanganagh Castle. The probation and welfare officer assigned to the centre will be assigned to other duties.

The closure and sale of Shanganagh Castle is a decision not taken lightly, but it is a decision aimed at positive re-investment in the prisons and at maximising the use of the resources available to the Prisons Service.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore Not one word about rehabilitation.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We must move on to the next matter.

Mr. N. Ahern: Information on Noel Ahern Zoom on Noel Ahern I will convey the Deputy's point about Shelton Abbey but it may well be that with the significant development of prisons in recent years, the smaller ones will be closed.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore Has the Minister given up on rehabilitation?

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