Professor Ursula Kilkelly of UCC has written a volume on youth justice in Ireland, which was launched last night (9 June) at the Royal College of Physicians in Kildare Street, Dublin 2.
Launching the book, solicitor Noeline Blackwell said that, since her appointment to the board of Oberstown Detention Centre, Prof Kilkelly had seen a major overhaul in line with international standards.
Advancing Children’s Rights in Detention – A Model for International Reform, co-written with Oberstown Detention Campus Director Pat Bergin, is published by Bristol University Press.
The academic has also been researching and publishing on children’s rights for almost two decades, with particular focus on youth justice and detention, Blackwell added.
Prof Kilkelly said that the book tells the story of the process of change undertaken at Oberstown, to put in place a child-centred model of detention.
This included closing St Patrick’s Institution five years ago, and ending the practice of housing those under 18 in adult prisons, which was achieved in 2017, she said.
These changes had the imprimatur of national law, as well as political and senior civil servant support, she added.
Despite this, the obstacles at times seemed insurmountable, Kilkelly said, and the book describes how those obstacles were overcome.
Describing herself as an “activist academic”, Prof Kilkelly said that she was likely appointed to the Oberstown board in 2012 in order to prevent her speaking out in the media.
She described how an ethos was put in place that took on board the views of young people in detention.
Two young people in detention were allowed to participate in the interview process for selecting directors, which Kilkelly described as a highlight.
“We are not aware of any facility anywhere that has matched those children’s rights standards in practice,” she said.
Her board role had given her a ringside seat in the fast-paced management of youth detention, the academic said.
The book marries the academic theory of children’s rights in detention with the practical reality of difficult and complex circumstances, she said.
Children's rights are often violated in detention, the book finds.
The rights-based model at Oberstown includes protection from harm, provision of basic needs, participation in decision-making, partnership with families and communities, and preparation for leaving, to ensure successful reintegration, she said.
Mr Justice John O’Connor said that the book filled him with both deep sadness and anger that the most vulnerable children have been neglected in industrial schools and detention centres, for most of the State’s existence.