The Children Act 2001 provides the framework for the development of our juvenile justice system. The Garda juvenile diversion programme provides an opportunity to divert juvenile offenders from criminal activity. It operates under the supervision and direction of the Garda national juvenile office, Harcourt Square, and is implemented throughout all Garda divisions by 94 specially trained gardaí known as juvenile liaison officers.
Part 4 of the Children Act places the juvenile diversion programme on a statutory basis and incorporates into it, as new features, restorative cautioning and conferencing. In addition, under the Act, the age limit for inclusion in the programme was increased from 17 to 18 years of age. To facilitate these innovative developments, Garda juvenile liaison officers throughout the country have received a minimum of 60 hours mediation training and some have received advanced training to provide them with the extra skills required to deal successfully with the programme.
The programme is used to its greatest extent in relation to minor offences and-or for those with no or only one or two experiences of offending. One of the primary aims of the Children Act is to expand the options a court will have at its disposal when deciding on how to deal with a young offender. The community-based options provided for in the Act will allow effect to be given to the principle that detention for young offenders will be a last resort. Thus, the Act generally envisages committals to custody of young offenders being availed of only in situations where other alternative diversions and community-based options have been resorted to and have failed.
The Deputy will be aware that the Children Act 2001 is a complex and comprehensive piece of legislation and, for those reasons, provisions under the Act are being implemented on a phased basis, as was envisaged at the time of enactment.
In October 2004 the Government endorsed my proposals to examine the scope to rationalise and restructure the delivery of services in the youth justice area in accordance with the Children Act 2001. To this end, I established a project team within my Department to conduct this examination and to bring forward recommendations for any reform necessary.
The project team consulted widely within the statutory and non-statutory sectors and published a call for submissions in the national press. The team conducted a review of existing structures and also examined international best practice in the youth justice area.
The Minister of State at my Department, Deputy Brian Lenihan, who has responsibility for children, is currently examining the outcome of this review. The intention is to bring proposals arising from this examination to Government in the very near future, including proposals in the area of detention.
At present, provision for young offenders aged generally up to 16 years is made in five children detention schools. These facilities, four of which are located in the Dublin area and one in Clonmel, operate under the aegis of the Department of Education and Science. The schools provide residential care, education and rehabilitation for young people who have been convicted or placed on remand by the courts.
On admission, a comprehensive educational assessment is carried out on each student and an individual education plan is drawn up. The aim of the plan is to build upon the strengths and try to remediate the weaknesses of each individual young person. Educational programmes can range from intensive learning support in literacy and numeracy to a wide range of academic and practical subjects that can be studied up to state examination level. The children detention schools also have a drugs-alcohol misuse programme to educate young people of the dangers of taking illegal substances. In addition, to strengthen aftercare provision, step-down, pre-release units have been, or are in the course of being, established and aftercare programmes are also in place.
Regarding the need for custodial and rehabilitative care for juvenile offenders, I wish to advise the Deputy that, under the Children Act, I, as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, will be obliged to provide separate detention facilities for 16 and 17 year old boys and girls who are committed to custody by the courts, either on remand or under sentence. The primary objective of these detention centres will be to provide a secure but supportive environment in which young offenders can develop the personal and social skills necessary to avoid future offending.
My Department has taken further steps in this area. A pilot mentor project has commenced in the north Dublin area. The programme will serve as a model for the development of the mentor, family support, order. The probation and welfare service has also commenced a pilot parenting programme in south Dublin which is evidence based and focuses on parenting skills. The programme is a model for the parental supervision order.
I can also advise the Deputy that my Department through the probation and welfare service provides funding to 70 projects from voluntary bodies nationwide. Some 40 of these projects provide a range of rehabilitative services to offending children in their local communities, such as education, offender management programmes, residential accommodation, drug and alcohol abuse treatment, intervention and awareness programmes.
Garda youth diversion projects are community based, multi-agency crime prevention initiatives which seek to divert young people from becoming involved, or further involved, in anti-social and-or criminal behaviour by providing suitable activities to facilitate personal development, promote civic responsibility and improve prospects of employability. The projects are funded by my Department and administered by the community relations section of the Garda Síochána.