Even if they are given a chance, there’s a feeling they’ll be back

THE ginger-haired freckled boy sits on the Luas with his mother and her friend.

They laugh loudly, chattering about the weather, the weekend and if sun-beds are better than fake tan.

The boy, in his mid-teens, has his head down and nervously chews his fingers.

“Is this the stop so?” the mother’s friend asks as the Luas pulls up at the Four Courts.

“No, no, the children’s court is the next one,” the mother replies. “We might be late,” she jokes in her son’s direction.

But they are well on time, and later that afternoon, the judge in the children’s court hears the red-haired boy, has, by all accounts, been doing well. He has been helping out at home, painting and cleaning, and his probation will end in a few months. If he continues to behave, that will be the end of the matter. He and his mother thank the judge and leave happy.

His is perhaps the most benign case before the children’s court at Smithfield today — others are not so lucky.

There is the 17-year-old girl, beaten and bruised, up on a minor charge, but whose life is clearlyspiralling out of control.

There’s a 15-year-old boy, defiant in the face of nine guards who file into court seeking that his bail be revoked.

A 14-year-old boy is described as a “grave risk” to society, and a 14-year-old girl’s father demands she be detained because she is out of control and will end up like him — a serial offender — if something is not done to help her.

Cases like these are the day-to-day reality in the children’s court.

Some young suspects come with a large contingent for support; parents, extended family and friends.

Others cut a more solitary figure and are accompanied by a brother, or an uncle, one parent, usually a mother. Others still don’t bother turning up at all.

Congregating in the hallways waiting to be called to court, they laugh and joke, pop out for a smoke, but nevertheless there is a nervous atmosphere.

The courtroom itself is tiny, about half the size of a small classroom and it is suffocating. For all their bravado, no child wants to be here.

They sit at a centre table, the judge in front of them, guard at one end, defence solicitor at the other, and while the process is more like a mediation room than a courtroom, it’s size is somewhat oppressive.

The situation for young offenders in Cork is not so forgiving. Here the setting is an adult courtroom.

The young people before the judge don’t quite know where to stand and sort of linger halfway between the door and the judge, who sometimes tells them to sit, and at other times doesn’t even address them properly.

It is a much more adversarial and disorganised affair.

The cases before the Cork court on one day range from being drunk in a public place to possession of ecstasy tablets, to theft of a motorbike.

One young man has his sister in court. His mother cannot be there, the court is told.

The boy has been diagnosed with mild schizophrenia, according to his sister, but has not been able to get medication for some weeks because his medical card has lapsed and the HSE will not issue an emergency one, she claims. He has been trying to sign himself into a psychiatric unit, she tells the court.

The boy was being held in St Patrick’s over an alleged theft, the judge grants him bail.

The HSE often is not in court, although there usually has been some level of engagement with the young person.

Impossible bail conditions are often imposed — a curfew, no drinking, orders to stay away from a certain area, certain people. Without supervision there is the distinct possibility they will not be kept.

The cases, too, always seem to revolve around a child who, it seems, no one can doing anything to help. Frustration on all sides is apparent.

There is a sense of hopelessness, as judges and solicitors discuss their fate they stand blank-faced, not even listening or comprehending what is going on around them. When the judge does give them another chance — bail, community sanction, there is a strong feeling that, in many cases, they will be back.


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