Christmas in prison for youth with brain damage

28 December 2004
By Jim Morahan

A BRAIN-DAMAGED teenager is spending Christmas behind prison bars because there is no other place for him.
The 18-year-old with a history of heroin abuse has been before the High Court 32 times.

The plight of the boy - called John to protect his identity - highlights the failure here to provide specialised units for such severely disturbed young people.

Campaigning Jesuit priest Fr Peter McVerry has described the case as “absolutely appalling” and said it highlighted the lack of adolescent psychiatric facilities in Ireland.

From Dublin’s inner city, the teenager is being held in Cloverhill Prison in relation to assault charges.

The boy has suicidal tendencies and is incapable of independent living. Attempts to house him in an apartment with a care worker’s support had to be abandoned.

His solicitor, Sarah Molloy, said a place in a therapeutic centre in England had been identified “which will be best able to meet his needs”.

Ms Molloy said she had written to the health board asking them whether they would fund the placement in England.

“I believe it’s the only place that can cater for his needs, because it has an element of security as well as therapeutic care,” she said.

Ms Molloy said she had also written to the TDs in the boy’s constituency; Tánaiste Mary Harney as Health Minister, Junior Health Minister Brian Lenihan and Justice Minister Michael McDowell.

Earlier last year Mr Lenihan promised in the Dáil that support for John would be ongoing irrespective of his age.

Social workers have been involved with John since he was a baby. The second of six siblings in a single parent family, he grew up in a three-bedroomed flat in the inner city.

His mother, who had a history of depression and alcohol abuse, could not cope and the children were taken into care.

John first began to display difficult and disturbing behaviour when he was five years old.

At a young age he became suddenly and inexplicably violent. His parents discovered he had been sexually abused by a relative.

On the night of October 3, 2000, John sustained serious brain injuries when he was a front seat passenger in a stolen car that crashed. Since then, he has been under constant watch after repeated attempts to kill himself as a result of anxiety over being jailed.

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