Number of sex assaults and bank robberies by juveniles on the rise

Reported juvenile crime continues to fall — but an increasing proportion of offending children are not suitable for a system which diverts minors away from the criminal courts.

While the bulk of recorded crimes is reducing, particularly in theft and public order categories, some specific offences are increasing — including sexual assault, bank or post office robberies, and the sale of drugs.

The Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme report for 2013 shows a 15% decline in the number of offences referred to it, to 20,536 offences.

However, some 35% of these cases were deemed not to be suitable, for reasons that included the nature of the offence, persistent offending, the attitude of the offender, or the assessment of gardaí.

In these cases, the children were referred back to the criminal courts.

The report said that a small hardcore of juvenile repeat offenders accounted for around 30% of offences and called for early intervention among this group.

Under the law, all juveniles between the ages of 12 and 18 must first be referred to the diversion programme before they are charged in the criminal courts.

They can only be included in the diversion programme if they take responsibility for their actions, agree to be cautioned and, where appropriate, undergo supervision.

Referrals to the programme have dropped dramatically since 2010 and 2011, when over 27,00o reported offences by juveniles were referred to it.

Divisions with the greatest number of referrals were Dublin Western (1,907), Dublin Southern (1,679), Dublin Northern (1,500), Limerick (1,376), and Cork City (1,183).

Of the 20,536 cases in 2013, some 7,171 (35%) were deemed to be unsuitable for inclusion. This compared to 33% in 2012.

The proportion of children deemed unsuitable for the service has increased in recent years, from 14% in 2011, to 15% in 2012 and to 16% in 2013.

Divisions with the highest number of refusals for inclusion were Dublin North Central (52%), Louth (50%), Meath (47%) and Cork City (45%).

The crime breakdown shows significant reductions in the main categories: theft (down 6%); public order (down 23%); criminal damage (down 13%), assaults (down 12%) and burglary (down 14%).

However, there was a slight rise in drug offences, including a 5% increase in selling or supplying drugs (up 5%).

While robbery offences overall were down, there was a 14% increase in robberies of an establishment or institution, such as banks or post offices.

Similarly, sex offences overall were down, but sexual assaults were up by 3%. The overall number of offences dropped from 291 in 2012 (the highest in recent times) to 253 in 2013, which is back down to 2011 levels (250).

There was one murder involving a juvenile in 2013, compared to six in 2012.

The report also cites research conducted by the Garda Síochána Analysis Service among Garda Youth Diversion Projects (GYDP).

It noted that the drop in juvenile crime mirrored overall crime patterns.

It said the proportion of the population reaching at least an upper secondary level of education increased from 68% in 1992 to 88% in 2011.

The analysis found that a hardcore of offenders, just 4% or 1,065 children, were linked to 29% of all referred offences.

It said that 80% of these cases were deemed unsuitable for inclusion.

It said those under 16, who were involved in burglary, unauthorised taking of a vehicle and robbery, may be “an early indication” of a tendency for prolific offending.

“If they are identified early, at an age before they become prolific and unsuitable for caution, the GYDP may be able to engage with these young people and have positive impact on their lives,” the report said.

It called of the 100 GYDP to be increased in number, saying “there is room for expansion of the scheme into new areas”.

Success as perpetrators and their victims meet

A young girl sending threatening text messages to another girl and who was subsequently caught with a knife at school was one of the 900-odd juveniles given a restorative justice caution in 2013.

Restorative justice involves bringing the offender and the victim, or someone on their behalf, together.

It allows the victim a voice and gives the perpetrator a chance to repair the harm.

In this case, a juvenile liaison officer (JLO) examined a number of referrals for a young offender.

This offencer had sent text messages to another girl, which were used to cause harassment and to threaten her.

This extended to the offender being caught in school with a knife, where the other girl also attended.

The JLO saw that the situation was escalating and discovered that it stemmed from a dispute and that their relationship had broken down.

The JLO met with both girls and their parents and held a restorative meeting, which went well.

“Through the use of restorative justice and bringing all the affected parties together, not only was the harm of the crime addressed but the young victim could feel safe in any future meetings between herself and the other girl,” reported the JLO

The report said there were 911 restorative justice cautions in 2013, compared to 1,036 such cautions in 2012.

The Garda Southern Region had the most, with 265, followed by Dublin, with 254.

In a second case, extensive criminal damage was caused to a new community building by five young boys.

A restorative justice meeting brought them, and their parents, face-to-face with people from the community centre.

The meeting was held in the centre, so the parents of the youths could see the damage. The kids acknowledged the stupidity of their actions and verbally apologised to the staff.

The kids agreed to do gardening duties at the centre and some brought their friends along.

They completed an art course and planned to do a mural for the building.

A third project was a road traffic pilot initiative, which is underway in 10 garda divisions.

The young offenders were accompanied to the meeting by their parents and examined their behaviour and how dangerous it was.On one occasion they were joined by a 31-year-old man who, at the age of 25, was involved in a serious road accident, which left him a paraplegic.The offenders agreed to change their driving behaviour, which will be monitored by their JLO during supervision.

— Cormac O’Keeffe

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