Restorative caution programme for young offenders is collapsing

Aimed at under-18s guilty of offences from theft to rape, diversion programme cautions have fallen from 1,000 to 72 in four years
Restorative caution programme for young offenders is collapsing

Fears of re-traumatising victims and a lack of funding are among the causes of the collapse of aspects of the crime diversion programme. Picture: Denis Minihane

A new report outlines the collapse in restorative cautions issued to young offenders, and shows a 178% annual increase in the number of rapes perpetrated by those under the age of 18.

The annual report of the committee appointed to monitor the effectiveness of the diversion programme shows that, in 2018, just 72 restorative cautions were applied — down from 477 in 2017, and almost 1,000 in 2014. 

Such cautions involve meetings between offenders and victims but, in 2017, the publication of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act resulted in a pulling back from organised conferences involving both victim and perpetrator over concerns that victims could be re-traumatised.

Fall in number of restorative cautions 

According to the report, which has been laid before the Oireachtas: "Restorative cautions have been trending downwards since 2014. 

However, in 2018 there was a further decrease in the number of restorative cautions administered.

This decrease is due to a combination of factors, the report said, such as the continued practice of not recommending restorative cautions in relevant cases.

Those cases could arise from legal obligations placed on gardaí to safeguard the rights of victims in relation to their participation in a restorative justice event under the 2017 Act.

Lack of funding a factor

Other factors include the withdrawal or re-diverting of funding by the Irish Youth Justice Service to augment work in other areas of youth diversion/youth development, it said.

The report makes other references to that withdrawal of funding, stating: "The vacuum created by the non-availability of funding from Irish Youth Justice Service resulted in a significant reduction in the operational capability of the Garda Youth Diversion Office (GYDO) and the ability to fully implement on the recommendations of the Monitoring Committee in its 2017 Report."

According to the monitoring committee report: 

  • There were 16,491 referrals in 2018, down 17.5% on the 2017 figure; 
  • 4,754 informal cautions and 1,526 formal cautions were administered; 
  • The number of children referred was 8,561, a 19% reduction on the number referred in 2017, and 71% were male;  
  • Some 1,249 children were deemed unsuitable for admission to diversion in 2018; 
  • 27% of children were under 15 years of age and 4% were aged 12.

As for the detected offences, more than 5,000 related to theft and related offences, led by theft from shops. 

Public order and related offences was the next most prevalent category.

There were 578 sexual offences recorded in the report, an annual increase of 43%, including 203 rapes, up 178% on the figure for 2017.

In January 2019, it emerged that a number of reported crimes involving young people who were deemed not suitable for diversion had not been followed up by gardaí with a view to making arrests and securing a conviction. 

That included 55 serious crimes and led to a comprehensive review of the system and changes in how An Garda Síochána's Pulse system operated regarding youth crime.

Dr Ian Marder, lecturer in criminology at Maynooth University, said a fresh emphasis needed to be placed on restorative justice measures and that it should be offered as an option to victims in every instance.

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