New thinking is needed to free children as young as 11 who are trapped in criminal networks, a juvenile justice expert has urged.
Dr Sean Redmond, a professor of youth justice at the University of Limerick, has just completed a four-year study of a criminal network using data from the Garda Pulse system.
‘Lifting the Lid on Greentown’ looks at a criminal network operating in an anonymous community outside of Dublin. The location of the study was anonymised and renamed Greentown to prevent young people and the community from being identified.
The study, commissioned by the Department of Justice, found that criminal gangs are using drugs, alcohol, and the notion of status to entice children into a life of crime.
Dr Redmond said the problems described in the report must be tackled, but fresh thinking was also needed.
He recalled a teenager who had run into debt with a local drugs gang and decided to leave the area. “The boy’s mother contacted him after he left and pleaded with him to come back home and take his beating. Apparently, the local gang had made the parents’ life a living hell,” he said.
Dr Redmond said the report, using Pulse data and the testimony of local gardaí, tries to “get under the bonnet” of how children become engaged in criminal networks.
The report also seeks to identify the kind of drivers and motivations that entrap children into more prolific and more serious crime.
It points out that even though the children involved in the Greentown network represent a small minority, their activities, from a law enforcement perspective, posed a significant problem.
“This small population of children in Greentown was, during 2010 and 2011, responsible for a significant level of serious crime, five times higher than equivalent national averages for burglary,” the report states.
Garda analysts constructed a network map for the study using incident data to position 31 individuals, aged 11 to 36, who had been involved in either burglary or drugs for sale and supply in Greentown between 2010 and 2011.
Crucially, the map indicated relationships where two or more individuals were involved in the same offences.
The map was used as an essential reference tool to interview Greentown gardaí about the activities and circumstances of the people identified.
The report recommends designing a more effective programme of interventions for children involved in criminal networks. It also recommends repeating the study in other locations to gauge the degree to which the Greentown findings can be generalised.
Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone and David Staunton, the junior justice minister, welcomed the report.
Mr Staunton confirmed that the department would fund the recommended follow-on research study.
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