On Tuesday 31st May 2016, the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice (JCFJ) launched its latest report, Developing Inside: Transforming Prison for Young Adults, and called on the Government to end ‘severe confinement’ for young adults (those aged 18-24) in prison. The IPRT welcomes this publication, which echoes a number of findings illustrated in the IPRT’s own report, Turnaround Youth: Young Adults (18-24) in the Criminal Justice System – The Case for a Distinct Approach, published in May 2015.
As a key finding in its report, the JCFJ highlights the fact that young adults are over-represented in Ireland’s prisons; while young adults make up just 9% of the general population, they account for 1 in 5 people in Irish prisons each day, and more than 25% of committals each year. The report therefore addresses the particular needs of young adults in prison, and in particular the conditions in which they are detained.
The report also notes that once a person reaches the age of 18 they are treated in the same way as older adults, regardless of their level of maturity or vulnerability. However, research reflected in both Developing Inside and Turnaround Youth, shows that young adults are still in transition to full adult maturity, and do not fully mature until their mid-twenties. As such, the first of the recommendations made by the JCFJ in its report is that young adults in prison and within the criminal justice system should be recognised as a distinct group, by making them the responsibility of the Irish Youth Justice Service, and having detention facilities tailored to their specific needs. It further recommends that the number of young adults imprisoned be significantly reduced, through changes in the use of remand, finding custodial alternatives, and limiting imprisonment to the most serious offences.
These recommendations by the JCFJ echo the overarching recommendation made by the IPRT in its 2015 report that the Department of Justice and Equality develop a discrete criminal justice strategy for young adults, with a particular focus on the need for alternative measures, such as supervised bail support, diversion programmes, intensive community orders, and restorative justice practices, which are considered more effective responses to crimes committed by young adults.
The majority of the recommendations made by the JCFJ focus on improving the conditions of detention for young adults in prison, and the IPRT welcomes this report and its encouragement of respect for rights in the penal system. The IPRT highlights, however, that the current system fails to address the root causes of offending among young adults, and imprisonment is in fact making them more, not less, likely to commit crime. As such, the IPRT emphasises the need for prison to be the last resort for all those in the criminal justice system, and its 2015 report focuses primarily on the need to divert young adults from offending behaviour, through targeted prevention and intervention measures.