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Question

97. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the extent to which support services exist to rehabilitate and educate first-time juvenile offenders with specific reference to the need to ensure that such first-time offenders do not become subject to the influence of recidivists across Ireland and specifically in counties Sligo and Leitrim; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [16900/17]

Answer

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): The Deputy may be interested in the legal framework applicable to young offenders and the activities and services funded by my Department which support the operation of the law in this area.
Statutory provision in relation to young offenders is set out in the Children Act 2001 (as amended). Accordingly, where a young person under the age of 18 comes into conflict with the law, the principles of the Act apply. A key principle in the Act is that detention should be a last resort. In support of this principle, the legislation facilitates the incremental application of a series of measures, ranging from diversion in the first instance through community based sanctions, to detention.
The first main filter in the youth justice system is the Diversion Programme operated by An Garda Síochána, involving at different stages and depending on the seriousness of the offence, the informal caution (without supervision) and the formal caution (with supervision), including possible involvement with a Garda Youth Diversion Project. The second main filter is the range of non-custodial sanctions available to the courts including court orders for dismissal; conditional discharge; the payment of fines, costs or compensation; the binding over of parents; and orders imposing community sanctions supervised by the Probation Service. In supervising community sanctions, the Probation Service utilises a number of community based organisations with dedicated resources to work with young offenders.
Finally and as a last resort, detention in the Oberstown Children Detention Campus may be used. In this regard, I should mention that my colleague the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr. Katherine Zappone recently announced the roll-out of a pilot Bail Supervision Scheme for young people which will assist them in complying with their bail conditions pending the hearing of their case. International evidence suggests that this scheme should impact remand trends by offering the court a new option ‘bail with supervision’ as an alternative to a remand in detention. This alternative option should also help a young person to moderate their chaotic circumstances and promote greater stability.
It will be seen, therefore, that the focus under the law is to adopt a graduated approach which in the main serves to keep the vast majority of young offenders out of the criminal justice system. The Deputy might wish to note that in its 2015 Report, the statutory committee to monitor the effectiveness of the Diversion Programme reported that 74% of children referred to the Diversion Programme were admitted to it, thereby keeping them out of the criminal justice system and away from the potential negative influence of more serious recidivist offenders. The report also highlighted that 71% of children referred to the Programme were referred only once that year.
The operation of the above statutory framework is substantially supported by the significant investment by my Department through the Irish Youth Justice Service in community based programmes which are directed at diverting young people from further involvement in criminal or anti-social behaviour. These youth justice community programmes, which are managed by Community Based Organisations, proceed on the basis of evidence that diversion programmes in the form of high quality preventative intervention can do more to reduce crime than more costly custodial sanctions.
In 2017, approximately €21m, inclusive of €4m in Dormant Accounts Fund monies, will be allocated by my Department to Garda Youth Diversion Projects, Young Persons Probation Projects and other community based youth justice initiatives around the country. This substantial investment in community level youth justice projects and activities is managed in partnership with An Garda Síochána and the Probation Service. I might also point out that all 105 Garda Youth Diversion Projects and four of the eighteen Young Persons Probation Projects are part supported by the Irish Government and the European Social Fund (ESF) as part of the ESF Programme for Employability, Inclusion and Learning (PEIL) 2014-2020. The projects attract this EU funding as a social inclusion measure which increases the education and employment opportunities available to young people in addition to diverting them from any further involvement with the criminal justice system.
The purpose of this investment in youth crime intervention work is to engage young people in a process of learning and development that enables them to make positive lifestyle choices. The targeted supports involved seek to provide participants with the life skills that help them to make positive choices and desist from criminal and anti-social behaviour which in turn will enable them to be positive contributors to society. Project activities are wide and varied focusing on the specific risk and needs of young offenders which in the case of the Garda Youth Diversion Projects are assessed upon their referral into a project. Each project develops a tailored suite of interventions to use with each young person based on the risks and needs identified. Examples of activities undertaken across the projects include education and employment related programmes, peer relations programmes, substance abuse programmes, personality and behaviour related programmes with referral to appropriate agencies where required, leisure and recreation programmes, family and parenting related programmes, etc.
As the Deputy is probably aware, the Youth Action Project Sligo (YAPS) Garda Youth Diversion Project serves Sligo Town and its environs. In 2016 the Project's catchment area was extended in the Sligo/Leitrim area. The YAPS Project engages with young people in Leitrim in youth centres based in Manorhamilton and Drumshanbo by way of outreach support. The Monitoring Committee referred to above reported in 2015 that some 153 young people in the Sligo/Leitrim area were referred to the Diversion Programme that year, down 4% on the number of referrals in 2014. Recent information in relation to youth crime in County Sligo and County Leitrim indicates that theft from shops, breach of bail and public order offences are the three most common offences in the catchment area. Nationally, theft and related offences, public order and damage to property were the main categories of offences for which children were referred to the Diversion Programme in 2015. In 2017, my Department through the Irish Youth Justice Service is providing €116,500 to the YAPS Project.