Irish Penal Reform Trust

Distinct approach needed for young adults in the criminal justice system – IPRT

21st November 2019

Distinct approach needed for young adults in the criminal justice system to reduce risk of reoffending and improve life outcomes – IPRT

Seminar on youth justice examines approaches to addressing offending by young people aged 18-24

Young adults are more responsive to rehabilitative measures than older adults – but the wrong interventions can limit opportunities and deepen offending behaviour: Alternative sentencing and policy approaches are needed to reduce the offending rate among young adults. That’s according to Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), Fíona Ní Chinnéide, who was speaking ahead of a seminar on youth justice hosted by IPRT and the Irish Criminal Bar Association this afternoon (21.11.19).

The seminar will examine the need for a separate approach for 18-24-year-olds in the criminal justice system, with a focus on sentencing policy, diversion, alternatives to prison and the possibility of extending current spent convictions legislation for young people. The seminar will be opened by Minister of State for Justice and Equality, David Stanton TD, and addressed by several speakers from the fields of law and advocacy.

Ms Ní Chinnéide said: “Young people aged 18-24 make up 11% of the adult population in Ireland but more than 20% of committals to prison every year. This is despite evidence that imprisonment is particularly damaging for this cohort and can increase the likelihood of reoffending. We are particularly concerned that young adults are being imprisoned on short sentences, when legislation requires the judiciary to consider community service as an alternative to sentences of less than a year. Around 73% of 18-24-year-olds sentenced to prison in 2018 were committed for sentences of less than 12 months.

“Ireland has made good progress in reforming the youth justice system as it applies to children aged under 18 years. This includes the removal of all children from the adult prison system, and legislation that states that detention must be a sanction of a last resort for those aged under 18. Considering all the evidence of what works, we are calling for similar sentencing approaches to be extended to young adults aged 18-24.

“Currently, the criminal justice system’s approach to young adults assumes that they are fully mature and rational adults when they turn 18 and should therefore be treated as such if they become involved in offending behaviour. Once a person turns 18 years, they lose access to age-appropriate interventions, entitlements and supports.

“Internationally, there has been an increasing focus on transitions into adulthood as an opportunity for positive change, with an acknowledgement that brain development and maturing continues well into early adulthood. Evidence shows that most people ‘age-out’ of criminal activity in their late twenties, however, it is IPRT’s view that while the right interventions can support desistance, the wrong interventions can deepen offending behaviour.

“The aim of our seminar is to highlight the robust and growing body of evidence that advocates for an approach that considers the special circumstances of young people transitioning into adulthood. Supervised bail support, diversion programmes, intensive community orders, the extended application of spent convictions and restorative justice practices are among the more effective responses to crimes committed by young adults.”

Ms Ní Chinnéide added: “It is our view that a distinct strategy towards dealing with young adults in conflict with the law is required. This strategy should be grounded in the evidence of what works to support desistance among young adult offenders. The new youth justice strategy, currently under development, presents a great opportunity for positive innovative change for this age group.”

Commenting in advance of today’s seminar, Minister Stanton, who will be speaking at the event, said: “The Government is in the process of developing a new Youth Justice Strategy, which will set out evidence-based information and targeted interventions to reduce youth offending and to achieve better outcomes for young people who get into trouble with the law. For me, a key priority is prevention and early intervention. I can’t stress enough the importance of bringing relevant agencies and programmes together to ensure that the young people most at risk receive the required support and care. The work on the New Youth Justice Strategy also includes taking forward the programme for Government Commitment on examining possible alternative arrangements for 18 – 24’s. With this in mind, I am delighted to attend today’s event and look forward to hearing the perspectives of all speakers.”

The seminar, ‘Developing Youth Justice: 18-24s in the Criminal Justice System’, will take place today (21.11.19) from 4.30pm-6.30pm in the Distillery Building (Arbitration Room), Church Street, Dublin 7. It will include contributions from Minister Stanton; Senator Lynn Ruane; Legal Director for the Howard League for Penal Reform (UK), Dr Laura Janes; CEO of SpunOut.ie, Ian Power; CEO of Solas Project, Eddie D’Arcy; and barrister-at-law, Sarah Jane Judge.

ENDS

Contact: Sebastian Enke, DHR Communications, Tel: 01-4200580 / 087-3239496

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