Irish Penal Reform Trust

Systemic issues in Garda response to children deemed “unsuitable” for diversion must be addressed

17th January 2019


Systemic issues in Garda response to children deemed “unsuitable” for diversion must be addressed – IPRT

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) is deeply concerned at the statistics published today (Thursday, 17th January 2019) that reveal a systemic failure by An Garda Síochána to follow up on thousands of cases where children were deemed “unsuitable” for the Garda Youth Diversion Programme. Youth diversion is proven to reduce reoffending, but failure to intervene with those deemed not suitable can lead to an escalation in offending behaviour, sometimes with grave consequences. These systemic issues must be addressed to improve outcomes for children, for victims and for public safety.

IPRT was responding to information disclosed by An Garda Síochána on the operation of the Garda Youth Diversion Programme at a public meeting with the Policing Authority this afternoon (Thursday 17th January 2019). IPRT welcomes that the review of the Garda Youth Diversion Programme was undertaken; that measures are being taken to address the failures identified; and the establishment of the National Bureau of Child Diversion.

Responding to the figures released today, Deirdre Malone, Executive Director of IPRT, said:

"Every case that is not progressed represents an opportunity missed to address the offending behaviour, to improve life outcomes for the young people involved, and to improve public safety. This fails victims and it also fails the young people who committed those offences. Victims are entitled to expect that their cases will be promptly investigated, and there must be appropriate consequences for young people found guilty of committing offences.”

“However, we must not lose sight of the fact that youth diversion programmes are proven to be very successful in reducing reoffending. Other effective responses include family conferencing, mentoring, intensive case-management and restorative justice."

“We need more information on why so many children and young people are found to be not suitable for diversion, and the longer-term outcomes for those young people. The disproportionately high numbers of young people aged 18-24 in prison indicates that the right interventions are not being made at earlier stages. This is at great cost to victims, to society, and to the young people themselves.”

“It is crucial now that, along with the establishment of the National Bureau of Child Diversion, Government continues to invest in research and data to inform the most effective responses to offending by young people, and that these responses are applied consistently.”


1.      Imprisonment of young people in Ireland

  • Of all persons committed to prison in 2017, 17-24 year olds represented 22.8% (1,711 out of 7,484 total).
  • Of all committals under sentence during 2017, 17-24 year olds represented 23.3% (1,408 out of 6,037 total).
  • Of a total prisoner population under sentence on 30th November 2017, 18-24 year olds represented 16.5% (495 out of 2,990 total).

Figures available from the Irish Prison Service Annual Report 2017:

2.      IPRT Research 

In May 2015, the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) published a ground-breaking report which outlines the key actions necessary to address the over-representation of young adults in prison in Ireland. ‘Turnaround Youth: Young Adults (18–24) in the Criminal Justice System – the case for a distinct approach’ is available for download online at: 

Key points were that:

  • Young adults are more amenable to rehabilitation and change than older adults who commit the same crimes
  • the brain and maturity continue to develop beyond adolescence and into one’s mid-twenties – the right interventions can support desistance but the wrong interventions can deepen offending behaviour
  • supervised bail support, diversion programmes, intensive community orders, and restorative justice practices are among the more effective responses to crimes committed by young adults  

3.       Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) | is Ireland's leading non-governmental organisation campaigning for the rights of everyone in prison and the progressive reform of Irish penal policy, with prison as a last resort.

Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.



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