Up to 1,000 children throughout Ireland could be involved with a criminal network, according to new research published today.
The Minister for Justice has announced a new community intervention programme that “will offer new hope and opportunities for children caught up in serious and prolific crime”.
The programme is based on the Greentown Project - four reports published by the University of Limerick in a partnership between the School of Law at UL, the Department of Justice and the Department of Children.
The key finding in the five-year project was that criminal networks “play a significant role in encouraging and compelling children to engage in criminal behaviour”.
The research indicates that up to 1,000 children throughout the State could be involved with a criminal network.
Four reports have been published today and the new project has been designed based on the work.
Three of the reports are locally based case studies - Greentown and Redtown focus on network activity in two provincial towns. Bluetown is an examination of criminal networks in one Dublin location.
The fourth report is a “national survey which assessed the prevalence of problems identified in the Greentown study across Ireland".
“Taken together, the reports provide detailed examinations of the features of criminal networks that operate in locations where children were detected for involvement in high levels of burglary and drugs for sale and supply,” the Department of Justice said.
The Department said that a new programme based on the research is being implemented on a pilot basis in two locations.
“These pilots will get underway shortly and the lessons learned from the pilots will have a key influence on the development of the Department’s policies and interventions in the youth justice area.”
Justice Minister Helen McEntee thanked report author Dr Sean Redmond, adding: "It is vital that we break the link between criminal gangs and the young people they try to recruit into a life of crime.
“We must break the cycle of criminality as early as possible and the Greentown project gives us the tools we need to stop criminal gangs persuading young people to join their networks.
“The research and evidence demonstrates that this is a serious issue and one which demands a serious and rapid criminal justice response.
“The fact that an estimated 1,000 children across the State are engaged with criminal networks illustrates the work we have to do. Our plans to outlaw the grooming of children into crime is a clear signal that we are serious about stopping the gangs from leading our young into a life of crime."
Last week, Ms McEntee announced a new bill that will make it an offence for an adult to compel, coerce, induce or invite a child to engage in criminal activity.
The Government says the legislation is a key part of its efforts to prevent gangs leading children into a life of crime.
Dr Redmond, the Principal Investigator for the Greentown project said: “This is the culmination of five years’ work spent trying to lift the lid on how criminal networks in Ireland exploit children to commit crime. The three case studies have dug deep into networks in Greentown, Redtown and Bluetown.
"In particular, we were interested in how they suck children in with promises of bling and a party lifestyle and retain them through debts, obligations and fear.
‘"The national prevalence study that we are also launching today, with huge support from Garda Juvenile Liaison Officers, gives us an idea of the size of the problem.
"We estimate approximately 1,000 children across the state are engaged or at risk of engagement with a criminal network. From a child protection perspective, these children are clearly being exploited by adults.
"From a law enforcement perspective, they appear to commit a significantly disproportionate amount of youth-related crime.
Dr Redmond added: "It’s really important that we understand what this problem looks like, its size, its shape and what makes it tick before we propose solutions.
"When we compared the local criminal networks in the three different locations we found was that while there were common features, each one had a distinctive character that has relevance to how you intervene to reduce its influence.”
The four research projects can be read here.