DUP MLA calls for recent positive efforts in youth intervention to be maintained
The number of first-time offenders in Northern Ireland has continued to fall over the last year.
New figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency show that in 2019/20, 29,093 offences were dealt with by a conviction or disposal.
Around a quarter (26.8%) of these were first-time offenders at 7,805 — a reduction of 120 (1.5%) from the previous year.
It follows a gradual reduction each year from the 2014/15 proportion of first-time offenders at 30.4%. The vast majority of first offences (5,561) were dealt with by conviction, with diversions used in 2,224 cases.
Motoring offences were behind over half of first-time offences at (55.2%) compared to violence against the person (14.2%), drugs (8.1%) and theft (5.2%).
Diversions as punishment for first offences was highest in the categories of drugs (72.1%), public order (71.2%) and possession of weapons (68.6%).
By contrast, convictions were more likely for first offences involving motoring (91.4%), burglary (88.2%), sexual (80.7%), miscellaneous crimes against society (74%) and fraud (72.8%).
Comparing gender, most first-time offenders were male at 70.8% compared to 29.2% of females. And looking at the age of new offenders, around one in 10 (710) were aged 10-17 while one in four were aged 18-24 (2,073).
DUP MLA and Justice Committee member Peter Weir welcomed the reduction in offending figures. "I think the figures are encouraging and they reflect not just what's happening in youth justice, I think across society there has been a lot of better interventions with young people," the former education minister said.
"We see that for instance in the education system and some of the interventions through youth services. Sometimes it can be the case that a thousand parents have helped, so it really is a combination of things.
"I think it is important that we continue to make the right interventions, we can't be complacent about this. It's important in particular the investment that we put in our young people across the board."
Mr Weir said one critical area was helping those most vulnerable to problems in later life because of adverse childhood experiences.
"I think there’s a challenge beyond youth justice, but with the wider actions of the Executive so that we take what appears to be a positive trend and actually turn it into something with long term benefits — both for society and the individual themselves. The more that we can ensure that young people don’t get involved in criminal behaviour in the first place the better their life chances are. That’s something we should be taking the maximum advantage of.”
Asked about the scenes earlier this year of young people drawn into rioting, Mr Weir said there had been many positives in the community response.
"What happened there included certain justice interventions, but let’s remember once we saw that there was a very swift move through youth service and the Department of Education, backed up by the Executive to have youth interventions to have people really working on the ground. Those were things happening alongside the police and justice that actually started with Education and youth workers.”