An evaluation of a youth diversion programme for young offenders, three-quarters of whom are involved in organised criminal gangs, has said it should be extended and have its funding increased.
The recommendation is contained in a newly published evaluation of a number of Garda Youth Diversion programmes.
Programme A, a four-year intervention, was launched as a pilot programme in 2017 targeting young people who are no longer suitable for or refusing to engage with the mainstream Garda Youth Diversion Programme and who are involved in the criminal justice system at a serious level due to the nature and/or frequency of their offending.
According to the report, 12 of the 16 current Programme A participants (75%) are repeat offenders and "are involved disproportionately in certain types of crime not typical of youth offending (including possession with intent to sell, assault causing harm, burglary, dangerous driving and possession of a dangerous weapon), or both".
It said that while the programme does not deliberately target young people involved in organised crime, an initial assessment carried out for this evaluation suggests 12 of the 16 young people currently receiving support through the programme may be involved.
The assessment found half the participants had "either halted or reversed the downward trajectory of their lives which they described as being without hope when referred to the programme and certain to end in either prison or death in the absence of the programme".
That evaluation is continuing and the report recommended funding for the programme be extended for a minimum of four years in order to allow completion of the current programme cycle, and that annual funding is increased to a minimum of €136,256 in line with the 2019 grant application.
Any expansion of the programme to other areas "should be done on a case-by-case basis in partnership with existing youth services".
It also suggested the in-house provision of youth drug and alcohol treatment be considered, subject to the availability of additional funding, and the involvement of participants in organised crime gangs "be kept under close scrutiny internally".
Another programme, Programme B, was launched in 2015 to provide tailored support to young people who are failing to engage with or benefit from the mainstream Garda Youth Diversion Programme.
Some 40% of participants had charges for "crime atypical of youth offending" and more than half had a diagnosed mental illness.
Some 62% of cases were "negative closures" but despite this, it was recommended that funding be continued and "the reasons underpinning the high volume of negative case closures should be explored in greater detail".
An evaluation of the QQI Co-ordinator Programme, offered to young people engaged in four Garda Youth Diversion Programmes located in the midlands, was found to be successful in tackling negative behaviour, including drugs. One programme coordinator said: "Young people can make thousands a week dealing drugs.”
It recommended extending tutor hours and attracting more young females.