Belfast Telegraph

Young offenders prison abuse alert

Prison chaplains have warned they are not hopeful of any real lasting efforts to reduce human rights abuses inflicted on young offenders at St Patrick's Institution.

Fr Ciaran Enright, a priest in the Dublin Archdiocese, said if the country really is serious about children's rights it cannot continue to turn its back on neglect and maltreatment in the centre.

A damning report by Inspector of Prisons, Judge Michael Reilly, found offenders aged 16-21 stripped naked as a punishment, bullied, denied visits, on 23-hour lock up and restrained in head locks.

Fr Enright said: "It is incredible to drive along our streets this morning and see posters urging a 'Yes for Children' while we seem content to quietly ignore the plight of one particular group of children.

"I sincerely hope that Judge Reilly's report will have a lasting impact; I sincerely hope the Department of Justice will make all changes necessary. Our experience working in St Patrick's has unfortunately taught us to be less than optimistic this will be the case."

Justice Minister Alan Shatter said reforms have been introduced since the inspections and the aim by 2014 is to have all offenders out of the unit. He also defended publishing the report late on Tuesday evening.

Fr Enright, head of the prison chaplaincy team, said colleagues were already concerned that Judge Reilly's report is slipping off the public agenda "like so many reports before it".

He noted the 30-year-old Whitaker report to the Chaplains own annual report for 2010 which singled out St Patrick's and described it as a "warehouse for young people many of whom were broken by childhood experiences".

Chaplains then warned St Patrick's had a harsh punitive system and that young offenders suffered a demoralising, destructive and dehumanising experience.

Fr Enright said the lack of general public concern regarding the treatment of these children was hard to comprehend. He warned that too often it was easier for us all to ignore children's voices if they only emerge in the pages of reports.

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