Close to one in 10 of all crimes reported in Ireland are committed by children, with under-18s responsible for more than half of all car and bicycle thefts, trespass offences, arson, unlawful collections, fireworks offences, and robberies from the person.
The annual report of the committee appointed to monitor the effectiveness of the Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme reveals that 9% of all recorded crimes in 2014 were committed by juveniles.
A total of 19,854 incidents were referred to the diversion programme, which represented a 3% reduction on 2013 figures. Such cases involved 9,991 individual children — down from 10,420 in the previous years.
The main categories of offence for which children are referred to the programme were theft, public order, and damage to property, which accounted for more than 60% of all crimes committed by juveniles.
A total of 247 sexual offences were recorded as being committed by children including 73 rapes — one third of all rapes reported in 2014. One murder was also committed by a juvenile that year.
Children under 18 were also held responsible for almost 1,200 burglaries — around 30% of incidents of the crime in 2014.
The report shows the number of young people being referred to the Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme has fallen to its lowest level since the initiative began over a decade ago.
Garda sources said that the reduction in the number of referrals was due to youth crime mirroring a general decline in all crime, while there was also a correlation between an increase in education levels, a decrease in the use of alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs and a reduction in youth crime.
Almost three quarters of all children involved in committing a criminal offence were accepted onto the programme in 2014. Three quarters of those referred are male.
The juvenile diversion programme, established in 2003, is designed to allow young offenders to avoid having their crime processed through the courts system.
Those aged under 18 years who are responsible for a crime must be considered for a caution before they can be brought before a court.
The decision to caution or prosecute is made by a Garda superintendent at the Garda Youth Diversion Office. Just under half of all children had their cases dealt with by way of an informal caution, while a quarter were given a formal caution.
However, 1,582 children — or 16% of the total — were not considered suitable for the programme. Reasons for not being admitted include the child not accepting responsibility for their behaviour, not consenting to be cautioned, not in the interest of society, and if the child is offending persistently.
For 70%, it was their first time in contact with the programme while 11%, or more than 1,000 children, had at least four referrals.
A total of 25 children under 12 years had four or more referrals.
Although the number of referrals declined in most Garda divisions, there were large increases during 2014 in the two divisions in Dublin City centre, and in Laois/Offaly, Wicklow, Cavan/Monaghan, Donegal, and Cork City. There were 993 cases dealt with through a restorative justice process where offenders meet their victims — a 9% increase on the previous year.
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