16th July 2010
Jennifer Hough, in the second part of an Irish Examiner special investigation on youth justice, highlights issues of concern within the juvenile criminal justice system and the lack of early intervention services made available to young offenders.
One area of concern to the Irish Penal Reform Trust, quoted in the special investigation, is the lack of proper bail support and the high number of children held on remand who do not go on to receive a custodial sentence. Of the total number of children who were remanded to a detention school in 2008, only 44% went on to received an actual detention order. According to IPRT, there is an urgent need to introduce formal systems of bail support to help young people meet their bail conditions and reduce the number of children placed in detention on remand. The need for bail supports is backed up by a 2008 report, Young People on Remand, carried out by researchers at Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT).
Routinely, writes Hough, the young person appearing in the children's courts on any given day is caught up in a subculture of drugs and alcohol, has dropped out of school early and is from a disadvantaged area.
Social justice campaigner Fr Peter McVerry claims that drugs and violence have "changed everything". They are blighting the lives of young people in certain deprived areas where a "subculture" of criminality prevails. Fr McVerry sees court and detention as an inevitability for some young people: "They have no access to social workers while in detention, no formal social work service, very inadequate psychological services - very inadequate compared with their need, anyway".
The Irish Examiner special investigation also talked to Gareth Noble, defense solicitor at Dublin's Smithfield children's court, who says: "About half of the children in court have been involved with the HSE. The current thinking within the HSE is that welfare needs are separate to the justice system. My viewpoint is that where you have someone who has needs which are not being met, there is a sad inevitability that they are going to come to adverse attention of gardai". This relates in particular to young people living in out of hours services.
The series also quotes child law specialist Catherine Ghent: "It is very easy to say let's look after children and ensure they have justice, but unless you put the systems in place you don't really mean it". According to Ms Ghent, the causes behind juvenile crimes are not addressed sufficiently. "There children appearing in court tomorrow and the problem is people are dealing with the result rather than the cause - whose responsibility is that? It has to be the HSE".