Belfast Telegraph

Over 10% increase in youth offenders in Northern Ireland

There's been an increase in the number of young offenders involved with the Youth Justice Agency this year
There's been an increase in the number of young offenders involved with the Youth Justice Agency this year

By Eimear McGovern

There's been an increase in the number of young offenders involved with the Youth Justice Agency this year, according to new figures.

The youth justice system in Northern Ireland deals with young offenders aged between 10 and 17 that have been referred by the courts system.

977 young people were involved with the agency in 2018/19, up from 887 in 2017/18.

It accounts for just over five young people for every thousand in Northern Ireland.

The figures account for both those in residential facilities such as Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre and those availing of services outside of those facilities.

There were 782 diversionary referrals in 2018/19, accounting for the highest proportion of referrals in that time frame.

Diversionary referrals involve directing a child to a relevant agency or multi-agency forum after they come to the attention of the PSNI.

It was followed by court-ordered referrals. At 505, they accounted for almost a third of the figures.

Other referrals, which include reducing offending programmes, bail support cases and work with probation, accounted for 3%.

However, the number of days spent by young people in custody dropped from 7,715 in 2017/18 to 6,497 in 2018/19.

The proportion of young people involved with custodial services that were subject to a care order or voluntarily accommodated decreased to 38.8% in 2018/19 from 42.5% in 2017/18.

A Youth Justice Agency spokesperson said: "Overall, the statistics reflect the work being undertaken right across the Agency to divert young people away from the criminal justice system at the earliest opportunity, with particular focus on early stage intervention.

"They also provide tangible evidence that custody is increasingly being used as a last resort for the most complex and challenging young people in the justice system.

"Earlier stage intervention referrals have increased year on year since its introduction in 2015/16 (55) to 236 in 2018/19. This shows that a growing proportion of these young people are being dealt with at an early stage and are therefore being diverted away from the formal justice system."

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