Irish Penal Reform Trust

Youth Justice Strategy marks an opportunity to transform the lives and futures of children facing multiple disadvantages – IPRT

15th April 2021

Department of Justice plans to widen access to the Bail Supervision Scheme and Young Persons Probation, and the proposed extension of measures to divert young adults aged over 18 away from the justice system will improve young people’s futures and promote wider public safety. However, proposals to extend interventions to children below the age of criminal responsibility are concerning and must not be led by justice agencies. Instead, the focus must be on school, family and community supports. 

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) was responding to the launch of the Youth Justice Strategy 2021-2027 by Minister of State for Law Reform, James Browne TD, with the Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee TD today (15.04.2021). The Strategy, a key commitment under Justice Plan 2021, includes a strong and welcome focus on diversion, prevention and early intervention, underpinned by children’s rights and the use of detention as a last resort, according to IPRT.

Welcoming the launch of the evidence-led Strategy, following input from an Expert Steering Group and public consultation, IPRT Executive Director Fíona Ní Chinnéide said:

“This strategy is an opportunity to transform the lives and futures of some of the most disadvantaged children and young people in Ireland. The emphasis on diversion away from the formal justice system to the greatest possible extent is of paramount importance. Inter-agency and public health-led approaches are proven to prevent and reduce both the frequency and severity of offending, and it’s vital that all Government departments follow through on their roles and responsibilities.

“It is critical now that the child-centred aims of the strategy are met with resourcing, and that wider social policy measures ensure young adults don’t fall through the cracks of the economic fallout from the pandemic.

While welcoming the overall intention of the Strategy, commenting on the proposed extension of the Garda Youth Diversion Project (GYDP) to eight- to 11-year-old children, IPRT Board member and experienced youth worker Eddie D’Arcy stated:

“Plans for the GYDP to target children under the age of 12 on the basis of their possible future criminal involvement is worrying. We are acutely aware, from both research and practice, that labelling children as ‘criminal’ or ‘offender’ creates additional risk factors for the child and can further drive them into long-term offending behaviour. Any project, regardless of its title, that can be identified by young people and their communities as being designed for ‘offenders’ is not an appropriate form of prevention.

“The inclusion of any initiative designed to support children as young as eight with specific needs in a Justice-led strategy is concerning. There are more appropriately placed social and educational services that could offer meaningful supports to these children and their families, including after school projects.

“Plans to develop alternative options for the Courts when responding to children and young people's offending are strongly welcomed. We can’t continue to use detention in Oberstown as a response to the needs of young people simply because there are no other options available.”

Another welcome aim of the Strategy is to create specific protocols for the care of young adults (18-24) in the prison system to support rehabilitation and desistence from offending, with an additional focus on transitions from Oberstown to the prison system and follow-up supports on release from detention. Fíona continued:

“Plans to provide a right to appropriate aftercare support for young people detained at Oberstown must also be resourced to give these young people the best chances in life. A relatively small number of children and young people leave Oberstown each year, there is no reason why they cannot be provided with safe accommodation and access to education and employment.”

ENDS

For all media enquires or to arrange interview with Eddie D’Arcy or Fíona Ní Chinnéide, contact Pamela: +353 (0) 86 043 3060 or communications@iprt.ie

NOTE TO EDITOR

  • Declaration of interest: Eddie D’Arcy is a serving member of the Board of IPRT. Eddie was also a member of the Expert Steering Group for the Development of the Youth Justice Strategy 20212027.
  • The Youth Justice Strategy 2021 – 2027 is available at http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/PR21000079
  • Other welcome initiatives contained in the Youth Justice Strategy include: possibility of the Children Court hearing cases of over18s in relation to offences occurring when under 18; the proposed amendment of the Children Act to provide for Diversion records to expire in the same way as other convictions under the Act; reform of court processes and training of professionals to better protect best interests of the child; and the recognition of children of prisoners as a group who may be particularly disadvantaged, whose individual circumstances need to be taken into account.
  • The 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.

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

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