Minister Browne launches Youth Justice Strategy 2021-2027

 

 

15 April 2021

 

The Minister of State for Law Reform, James Browne TD, has today launched the new Youth Justice Strategy 2021-2027 with the Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee TD. The Strategy, a key commitment under Justice Plan 2021, is designed to provide a developmental framework to address key ongoing challenges, as well as new and emerging issues in the youth justice area.

 

This will include preventing offending behaviour from occurring and diverting children and young adults who commit a crime away from further offending and involvement with the criminal justice system.

 

It will also provide for enhanced criminal justice processes, detention and post-detention measures to provide consistent support to encourage desistance from crime and promote positive personal development for young offenders.

 

Launching the new Strategy, Minister Browne said,

 

“Youth crime, including anti-social behaviour, can have a major impact on our communities and poses significant challenges for An Garda Síochána, as well as other Justice agencies. The factors which underlie youth crime have significant implications across a range of policy and service provisions, including Child and Family Services, Health, Education and local authority functions.

 

“This Strategy will respond collaboratively to the situation of vulnerable children and young people, with a strong focus on diverting them away from offending, prevention and early intervention. I can’t stress enough the importance of bringing all the relevant agencies and programmes together, and of supporting schools, to ensure that we provide a holistic, ‘wrap around’ response to the needs of children and young people at risk.

 

“Young people should have the benefit of a ‘no wrong door’ experience – if a family or a young person engages any service, there should also be accessible pathways to other services and supports that they might need. And, ideally, we should be engaging young people at risk before they enter the justice system.”

               

The immediate priority within the new Strategy will be to enhance engagement with children and young people who are most at risk of involvement in criminal activity, principally by strengthening the services available through the existing network of 105 Garda Youth Diversion Projects (GYDPs) across the State.

 

GYDPs engage with young people through a range of supports, including education, training and employment support, social enterprise initiatives, as well as personal development and supports such as mentoring, and personal development activities. The Strategy will seek to increase the range and quality of supports available to support positive personal development and behavioural change to lead to positive outcomes for the young people involved and their families.

 

Experience in the operation of the Children Act highlights the need to include children below the age of criminal responsibility (12 for most offences) in preventative measures, and to consider the extension of measures to divert young offenders away from the criminal justice system beyond the age of 18.

 

In particular, GYDP services will be enhanced to provide:

 

 

Some areas do not currently have a GYDP service. The Strategy proposes to achieve full national coverage within two years, principally by extending the operating area of existing projects, but a small number of new projects will also be required.

 

Minister Browne added,

 

While the problems created by Youth Crime are obvious, the proportion of our children and young people involved is extremely small. The Youth Justice System generally interacts with those aged 12 to 17 years old and Garda experience tells us that a significant number of young people who commit a crime will “grow out” of offending behaviour as they mature into adulthood.

 

“However, a very small but hard-to-reach cohort engage in serious or persistent criminal offending, a significant amount of which is drug-related and connected to the activities of organised criminal networks. Our current systems need significant development with respect to the measures available to address entrenched patterns of youth offending, and the new Strategy will address these issues.”

 

Substantial development of GYDP services is already underway, centred on an Action Research Project led by the “Research Evidence into Policy Programmes and Practice” (REPPP) research partnership with the University of Limerick, which is working directly with local projects. Aligned with this is the work of a dedicated Best Practice Development Team, who provide guidance, technical support and professional development support to GYDP Youth Justice Workers.

 

Dedicated arrangements will be put in place under the Strategy to support evidence-based development of programmes and interventions, and for monitoring the effectiveness of implementation on an ongoing basis. This will be supported by the enhancement of the existing  REPPP research partnership model.

 

Welcoming the Strategy, Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee TD, said,

 

This Strategy aims to address the ‘hard to reach’ cohort of young people at risk and there will be a priority focus on more problematic offending. We will adopt a “never-give-up” approach of engaging with those who are hardest for services to reach.

 

“The Strategy also incorporates a focus on serious offending patterns. This includes further development of the successful Bail Supervision Scheme and the Greentown programme aimed at children and young people who are subject to coercive control by criminal groups. Both these initiatives have received international awards as examples of innovation and good practice.

 

“Finally, I would like to thank former Minister of State at the Department of Justice, David Stanton, for all his work on youth justice issues over the last number of years.”

 

The new Youth Justice Strategy has been developed under the guidance of an expert Steering Group which has been in place since early 2019. The Steering Group was chaired initially by former Minister of State Stanton, and Minister of State Browne has overseen the completion of its work in recent months. Stakeholders from across the Justice Sector and Children and Youth Affairs were involved in the work developing the Strategy, including TUSLA, An Garda Síochána, community partners, and academic and practitioner experts. Feedback from a public consultation process carried out by the Department of Justice, which elicited 360 responses to an on-line questionnaire and 50 further substantive submissions, also informed the Strategy.

 

ENDS…/

 

Notes to editors:

 

To speak to a youth justice worker or one of the academics who helped to develop this new Strategy, please contact the Department of Justice Press Office for details at pressoffice@justice.ie

 

A copy of the Youth Justice Strategy 2021-27 can be downloaded from the Department of Justice website at: http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/Youth_Justice_Strategy

 

Census 2016 recorded about 375,000 in the 12-17 years age category. Garda figures indicates that about 3% of that number will commit an offence annually. In youth cases coming before the Courts, over 50% are dismissed, struck out or taken into consideration, highlighting the comparatively minor nature of a lot of youth crime.

 

Research shows strong links between youth offending and socio-economic circumstances, as well as child and family welfare issues. Offending behaviour cannot be considered in isolation and a key focus of this Strategy is considering how youth justice policy might be more closely aligned to other child and youth polices and to the promotion of community and local development.

 

The first National Youth Justice Strategy 2008-2010 focused on children who already had some contact with the criminal justice system and aimed to provide a coordinated approach among agencies working in the youth justice system. Going forward, there is still a need to focus attention on children in contact with the Justice system, to examine more closely why a proportion of young offenders go on to become adult offenders, and how this can be better addressed.

 

The first Youth Justice Strategy was followed by a Youth Justice Action Plan 2014 – 2018. Within this framework, there was significant progress in terms of the numbers of young offenders who have been successfully steered away from detention. In 2007, 247 young offenders (under 18) were committed to detention, whereas in 2019 a total of 127 young offenders were committed. 

 

The Garda Diversion Programme continues to engage successfully with many young offenders. The Diversion Programme operates by the administration of informal or formal Garda cautions, with supervision by a Garda Juvenile Liaison Officer in many cases. That statutory system is supplemented a network of Garda Youth Diversion Projects (GYDPs) which are delivered by community based organisations in cooperation with local Gardaí.