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Youth justice strategy to focus on below-12s and entrenched criminal cohort
Minister of State for Law Reform, James Browne Pic: RollingNews.ie

16 Apr 2021 / justice Print

Youth justice strategy to focus on below-12s and entrenched criminal cohort

A new Youth Justice Strategy 2021-2027 will enhance criminal justice processes, detention and post-detention measures to encourage desistance from crime.

But operation of the Children Act 2001 highlights the need to include children below the age of criminal responsibility (12 for most offences) in preventative measures, the document says.

And measures should be extended to divert young offenders away from the criminal justice system beyond the age of 18.

Socio-economic factors

Census 2016 recorded about 375,000 youth aged 12-17. Garda figures indicates that about 3% of that number will commit an offence annually.

In youth cases coming before the courts, over 50% are dismissed, struck out or taken into consideration, highlighting the comparatively minor nature of much of youth crime.

The document cites research showing strong links between youth offending and socio-economic circumstances, as well as child and family-welfare issues.

Community development

The objectives of the strategy are to maximise opportunities for positive behavioural change, with a framework of:

  • Early intervention and preventative work,
  • Family support,
  • Diversion from crime,
  • Court processes,
  • Supervision and support in the community, and
  • Detention and support post release.

A key focus of the document is considering how youth justice policy might be more closely aligned with other child and youth polices, and the promotion of community and local development.

Early intervention and holistic ‘wrap-around’ policies are key, said Minister of State for Law Reform, James Browne (pictured).

He added: “This strategy will respond collaboratively to the situation of vulnerable children and young people, with a strong focus on diverting them away from offending, prevention and early intervention.

Holistic response

“I can’t stress enough the importance of bringing all the relevant agencies and programmes together, and of supporting schools, to ensure that we provide a holistic, ‘wrap around’ response to the needs of children and young people at risk.

“Young people should have the benefit of a ‘no wrong-door’ experience – if a family or a young person engages [with] any service, there should also be accessible pathways to other services and supports that they might need.

“And, ideally, we should be engaging young people at risk before they enter the justice system,” he said.

Young people who are most at risk of involvement in criminal activity will be helped by strengthening the existing network of 105 Garda Youth Diversion Projects (GYDPs) across the State.

In particular, GYDP services will be enhanced to provide:

  • Early intervention and engagement with more challenging children and young people whose needs may be too complex for the existing GYDP services,
  • Family support,
  • Engagement with younger children (8-11 years), and
  • Work with schools to support retention of young people with challenging behaviour in the education system.

Some areas do not currently have a GYDP service. The strategy proposes to achieve full national coverage within two years, principally by extending the operating area of existing projects, but a small number of new projects will also be required.

Drug-related

Minister Browne added that the proportion of children and young people involved in crime is extremely small, and a significant number will “grow out of” offending behaviour as they mature into adulthood.

“However, a very small but hard-to-reach cohort engage in serious or persistent criminal offending, a significant amount of which is drug-related and connected to the activities of organised criminal networks,” he said.

“Our current systems need significant development with respect to the measures available to address entrenched patterns of youth offending, and the new strategy will address these issues,” he said.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland