Sunday Life

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Northern Ireland’s youngest inmate just 13 years old

Naomi Long

The age of the youngest prisoner in Northern Ireland has been revealed in an Assembly question.

At just 13 years old, the inmate in the Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre is among eight people under the age of 18 currently in custody.

The details were given by Justice Minister Naomi Long in a response to a written question by North Down Green Party MLA Rachel Woods.

Woodlands, near Bangor, is the main facility for holding people under 18 convicted by a magistrate at a youth court or, for the most serious offences, a Crown Court judge.

By law, offenders under that age cannot be identified until they turn 18.

The age of criminal responsibility in Northern Ireland is 10 years old, one of the lowest of any nation in Europe.

Of the other seven prisoners, one is 15, two are 16 and four are 17.

All were inmates at Woodlands as of September 10.

Once a prisoner turns 18 they are transferred to either the male young offenders’ centre or the women’s prison at Hydebank, on the outskirts of Belfast.

Woodlands was opened in 2007 as part of reforms targeting how the criminal justice system deals with young people.

The processing and detention of young offenders has improved significantly in recent years, prompted in part by the death of a teenager imprisoned in Maghaberry in 2002.

Annie Kelly was 19 when she took her own life in a punishment block cell at the jail, but she was just 14 when she received her first conviction.

The Strabane woman, classed as vulnerable due to her mental state, was serving a sentence for attempted robbery and burglary and had been convicted 28 times between 1997 and 2002.

An inquest concluded that major defects in the prison system had contributed to her death.

Belfast Telegraph