TEENAGERS who are part of Garda schemes to help divert them away from crime are likely to be from families where there is alcohol abuse, a history of criminal activity and ineffective parenting.
A comprehensive report published by Irish Youth Justice Service last year took an in-depth look at all 100 Garda diversion projects around the country.
According to the research, A Baseline Analysis of the Garda Youth Diversion Projects, 36 projects reported that a significant percentage of young people lived in families where a family member — usually an elder brother or father — had previous involvement with the criminal justice system or had been in prison. 37 projects reported that a significant number of parents had problematic drugs and/or alcohol use, while 11 reported young people experienced high levels of violence at home involving attacks mainly, but not exclusively, on mothers.
It also found that up to 50% of youth crime is committed in situations where alcohol has been consumed, indicating that drunkenness significantly contributes to teenager’s offending behaviour.
The man behind the report, and who visited all 100 projects is Seán Redmond, head of Young Offender Programmes with the Irish Youth Justice Service.
Mr Redmond maintains, simply, there are some areas where kids will have an awful challenge getting through to adulthood without getting into scraps with the law.
“Our job is to limit the damage during the key time for young offenders — from about 15 or 16 to 19,” he says.
“These are young people who have dropped out of school, the adults are having difficulties too and there is ineffective parenting, those kind of things were evident.”
According to Mr Redmond, in some cases there is an acceptance of alcohol and alcohol abuse and some adults are complicit in this behaviour, whether by supplying young people, or turning a blind eye.
“If young people are in a situation where parents are not controlling them, or if there is a lack of control in school, the projects will try and engage the parents or the school. But it is much more complex than that as well. You have kids presenting with these issues, and when they mix with other kids they share the same world view. They are impulsive, they don’t have a well developed sense of empathy and tend to not see the problem in public disorder offences.”
Examples of violence cited in the research include clashes as a consequence of longstanding neighbourhood and family disputes, or between groups of young people and individual young people seeking neighbourhood notoriety for their fighting ability.
Asked whether young people are becoming more violent, Mr Redmond maintains the effects of drugs and alcohol are certainly causing young people to act out more.
“I don’t think young people are pathologically becoming more violent, but drink and drugs does ratchet up the ante.”
Another major area of concern for policymakers is the economic climate.
According to Mr Redmond, over the next few years unemployment will pose one of the main challenges to diverting young people away from crime.
“To say youth crime rises in times of unemployment, I am not sure that is true, but it is going to be a really, really tough few years, we have no control over it and there are no easy answers. We just have to help kids find their way through and develop a sense of self-worth and help them find whatever opportunities they can.”
Although the projects are administered by youth groups, Mr Redmond insists they are not youth clubs. “It’s about getting young people to look at their behaviour, and think about it. You really have to engage the kids — that is paramount to success, you have to hook them in.
“The projects point out options to young people and help them develop confidence to say no, that can be tough for kids in a particular neighbourhood where your sense of worth comes from peers.”
If the offending behaviour continues, however, there is a limited tolerance threshold.
“We are never complacent about it, but I would be relatively sanguine that the diversion programme makes a difference. I would be confident that for some kids it’s the extra leg up they need. But of course there are some kids that through own choices or circumstances will carry on offending and be processed through the courts.”
Following on from the initial report carried out in 2008, Mr Redmond is working closely with An Garda Síochána honing in on five projects as pilot sites for even further analysis.
This research will finish at the end of the year, but Mr Redmond maintains they are already learning from is.
“Every locality has its own story, it’s about finding what that is and tackling it from the bottom up.[The] real strength in the Irish system is that numbers are small.”
However, there has been criticism at grassroots level that there are not enough projects, or resources, with communities around the country lobbying for services in their areas.
Countering this, Mr Redmond maintains the Department of Justice took a concerted decision to bolster up the 100 already in place and assess their effectiveness before creating more.
“The reality is that Garda projects have grown up over the last 20 years, we provided 100 projects through 38 youth organisations, so we wanted to get a look at them, and also about our capacity to deal with youth crime into the future.
“The challenges around youth crime are less for us and more for the kids growing up in these neighbourhoods.
“You have some kids who become involved in offending peer groups, and they can’t get out of it.
“Where they are involved in [the] periphery of gang-related crime, it is very hard to extricate them from it, so challenges are myriad but [a] very clear starting point is to get them thinking about behaviour
“Once they do make a decision our job is to try and help them follow dreams, to stop the bad and encourage the good. Every kid is good at something, it’s about finding it and encouraging it.”
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