Belfast Telegraph

Fall in child offenders reported

The number of child offenders coming to the attention of gardai has dropped for the sixth year in a row, new figures have revealed.

An annual report on a Garda programme aimed at keeping young offenders out of the courts system revealed that 563 fewer children were reported to gardai in 2012.

That was down by 4.4% from the year before and reflected a yearly downward trend since 2007.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter published the report, which was compiled by a committee appointed to monitor the effectiveness of the Garda Diversion Programme.

The point of the programme is to divert child offenders away from the courts system and task them with different community-based activities instead.

These are aimed at helping their development and giving them a sense of responsibility in a bid to improve their long-term chances of eventually getting a job.

The youngsters are given either an informal or formal caution. It is believed keeping them out of the courts system reduces the likelihood of them offending again.

"The diversion programme embraces, whenever possible, the principles of restorative justice and, at all times, it pays the highest regard to the needs of the victims," the Department of Justice said in a statement.

"The programme has proven to be successful in diverting young people away from crime by offering guidance and support to young offenders and their families."

A committee formed to oversee the diversion programme, which is made up of two members of An Garda Siochana and two civilians, found the majority of youngsters admitted were either first-time offenders or had repeated a minor offence.

Some 6,265 youngsters were given an informal caution in this case.

About 2,840 children were given a formal caution, which includes a period of supervision under a special juvenile liaison officer.

A further 1,850 young offenders were deemed unsuitable for the diversion programme and therefore had their files returned to their local superintendent for possible prosecution.

Around 80% of children referred to the programme were admitted.

The three most common types of offence committed by youngsters in 2012 were public order and social code offences (29%), theft and related offences (25%) and damage to property and the environment (10%).

Publishing the report, Justice Minister Shatter pledged the Government's unwavering commitment to continuing its work to tackle youth crime and anti-social behaviour.

Projects under the diversion programme, which are funded by the minister's department, are community-based and serve as an alternative to entering the courts system.

They are aimed at helping youngsters with their personal development and give them a role of responsibility within their community.

They are also aimed at improving the quality of life within communities and enhancing their relations with gardai.


From Belfast Telegraph