Lack of supports leave young offenders vulnerable

LAST month a 14-year-old boy was remanded in custody for educational and psychiatric assessments after he had continued to re-offend while on bail.

The teen, who had been suspended from school due to his bad behaviour, was before Dublin Children’s Court where Gardaí sought the remand.

He had already been given bail in May on a theft charge, subject to him obeying a nightly curfew. However, the court heard evidence that he had broken the bail condition and his mother, who had been evicted from her home because of him, had trouble controlling him.

Breaking conditions of bail is a common trend in juvenile youth system and professionals have consistently pointed to the lack of support structures in place to help a young person stick to the conditions of their bail.

A 2008 report, Young People on Remand, carried out by researchers at Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) revealed that even among professionals who work with young offenders, there was a general sense that it is unrealistic to expect young people to comply with strict bail conditions without providing some sort of support.

Professionals spoke of the sense of apathy and lack of expectation about complying with bail among young people arising from the disadvantaged circumstances of their lives.

The study went to on state that while all young people on bail are at risk of detention on remand if they do not comply with their bail conditions, young people ‘out-of-home’ or in care are a particularly vulnerable group.

Youth workers were unanimous in their view that appropriate safe facilities for this cohort were central to any strategy that attempted to avoid detaining them on remand. Favourable options included bail hostel accommodation and remand fostering.

A pilot scheme that was meant to offer bail support services for young offenders who come before the Children’s Court in Dublin and Limerick never materialised, due to cost and planning issues, according to the department.

The consequence of having no support is that many young people end up in detention on remand, locked up, often, in St Patrick’s Institution with criminals, when they themselves may not even end up with a custodial sentence.

Also, as cases are frequently adjourned before being finalised, young people may need to make a number of appearances before the court. Adjournments occur for a variety of reasons, including allowing time for the preparation of a Probation Service report or to await direction from the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) or to await a hearing date or a plea. During this period young people may be either remanded on bail or detained on remand.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) maintains the number of children held on remand who do not go on to receive a custodial sentence is of great concern.

Figures from 2008 show that 111 young people were detained on remand.

And of the total number of children who were remanded to a detention school, only 44% went on to received an actual detention order.

According to the IPRT there is an urgent need to introduce formal systems of bail support to help young people meet their bail conditions and reduce the number of children placed in detention on remand.

Indeed, the DIT report clearly identifies a core group of young people who are “deeply entrenched” in the youth justice system and who are likely to benefit from bail support and alternatives to remand programmes to reduce their risk of future detention.

It also recommended a bail review scheme be considered for St Pat’s as a means of reducing the length of time young people spend in custody there.

A formal bail support system looks unlikely to happen any time soon, and while other jurisdictions have designated youth workers — state employees — to navigate a young person through the system, here gardaí are left trying to pick up the slack.

A pioneering initiative set up by Gardaí in Dublin involves one officer being assigned to monitor all prosecutions brought against a juvenile once it becomes clear that young person is beginning to pick up multiple charges and their offending is snowballing

The Garda case management system has been in operation since 2006 and is being rolled out across other divisions across the country.

In effect, one garda acts as a kind of incident room and collates all information that is relevant to the prosecution. This can be presented to a judge, giving a more complete picture of the offender’s behaviour.

According to youth justice specialist Dr Ursula Kilkelly, this kind of intervention is needed across the board.

“We badly needed specialised lawyers, judges, everyone who works in youth justice needs to be a specialised worker, other countries can do it so there is no reason why we should not.

“We have gone so far at putting some in place but have not gone the extra mile in terms of ensuring it is effective.

“We just don’t have the services that we need to address the problems these children present with.”


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