That Dáil Éireann:
- a review of the Garda Youth Diversion Office (GYDO) recently carried out by An Garda Síochána has identified serious failings within the Garda Youth Diversion Programme (GYDP);
- the review examined 158,521 youth referrals, relating to 57,386 individual children, which were created on the Police Using Leading Systems Effectively (PULSE) system during the period 25th July, 2010 to 28th July, 2017;
- it was found that 7,894 of these referrals had not been appropriately progressed to a conclusion by An Garda Síochána;
- the review shows that the bulk of crimes not progressed were in the areas of public order, theft, traffic and criminal damage;
- 55 serious offences were identified as being not progressed, including rape, sexual assault and child neglect;
- many of the young offenders who were not progressed through the GYDP subsequently became involved in serious crime;
- the Garda Commissioner has described the failure to prosecute these youth offenders as a ‘humiliating professional failure’ for the force;
- this is the latest in a series of issues regarding Garda statistics that has damaged public confidence in An Garda Síochána;
- the Policing Authority said ‘So when there are no consequences for children who are unsuitable for the programme, it is inherently unfair on those who accepted their responsibilities. More seriously than that, however, is that without follow up, opportunities to help those children are missed. Children are failed and victims of crime are failed.’; and;
- these findings are shocking, serious lessons have to be learnt and immediate actions need to be taken by the Minister for Justice and Equality, An Garda Síochána, the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to prevent any further lack of follow-up on juvenile cases;
- successive reports have recommended that much more cooperation is needed between An Garda Síochána and Tusla;
- youth diversion programmes are proven to be very successful in reducing reoffending;
- the State has a responsibility to try to divert children from a path of crime should they commit offences at a young age;
- increased illegal drug use is causing greater challenges;
- 8,000 reported crimes by children should not occur without a targeted and strategic response from the State;
- 57 of the child offenders referred to have since died, indicating that many of those participating in this programme experienced chaotic lives; and
- most offences identified as not being acted upon are now time-barred on grounds of delay, and many others would be difficult to progress as they have been contaminated by the poor process to date; and
- a review into the cause of cases which were not properly progressed, to examine if disciplinary procedures should take place;
- victims of the serious crimes, which were not appropriately progressed to a conclusion, to be informed;
- an anonymised report into the cause of cases and in particular repeated cases which were not properly progressed in order to identify specific failures within the GYPD;
- a stay to be placed on the decision of the Department of Justice and Equality to centralise the Juvenile Diversion Programme pending the findings of these reports;
- the Minister for Justice and Equality, in conjunction with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, to publish an action plan for the reorganisation of youth justice sections within both departments to ensure accountability lies with only one line Minister;
- a quarterly update for the Houses of the Oireachtas on the progress of all issues before the GYDO for a period of no less than three years;
- a significant strengthening of section 28 of the Children Act 2001, to prescribe a minimum standard of supervision for all children under the supervision of a Juvenile Liaison Officer;
- increased and sustained investment in the Juvenile Diversion Programme;
- the Government to promote an effective GYDP to ensure the provision of training for Youth Justice Workers on specific issues such as health and mental health; and
- greater levels of prevention and protection for the public and the children caught up in criminal activity.
I welcome the opportunity to move this motion and open the debate on juvenile crime. I will share time with my colleagues, Deputies Cassells, Chambers and Cahill.
It is important to begin the debate by recognising and emphasising that we are in the unfortunate position in this country that a lot of crime is committed by people who are referred to as juveniles. They are people between the ages of 12 and 17 or 18. It is also the case that a significant volume of anti-social behaviour is committed by juveniles. That poses a particular problem for the State as to how we respond to it because it is clear is that if we do not get a child away from the path of criminality between the ages of 12 and 17, there is a likelihood that he or she will continue to commit crime as an adult. We then have a much bigger problem than we have when the younger person is committing crimes between the ages of 12 and 17.
The range of crimes committed by juveniles is not simply at the lower end of the spectrum. It is not simply the case that we are dealing with anti-social behaviour, breaches of public order or other summary offences. Unfortunately, it is also the case that many serious crimes are being committed by juveniles. I saw in The Irish Times today, and I am sure it happens frequently, that there are cases of young men, in particular, who have been convicted of serious sexual assaults or of rape. We need to recognise that the group of young people who are growing up now are exposed to aspects to which none of us was every exposed when we were growing up. I refer in particular to the prevalence of pornography on the Internet, the degradation of women and the submissive nature of women as presented on the Internet. That must have a significant impact on the developing sexuality, particularly of young men.
This country has an increasing drugs problem. I know it particularly in Dublin but it is not just in Dublin. It is throughout the country, and not just in what would be referred to as disadvantaged areas. There is a growing drugs problem throughout this city and the country. At this stage we do not know the extent to which use of drugs, which are getting stronger as time goes on, will impact on the mental health of young people. We need to be clear with young people to advise them of the dangers of taking drugs, particularly drugs which are perceived as being benign such as cannabis. Cannabis is so strong that it can have a very negative impact upon the mental health of young children. That is not just me stating it; it is something that has been recognised in reports produced.
Public order offences and, regrettably, serious offences are being committed by children. From the State's point of view, it needs to have a response and a plan as to how it intends to deal with it because everyone will agree that when a person as a child gets involved in crime for the first time it is appropriate and imperative that the response is not the same as it would be if an adult committing a crime. The objective should be to try to ensure that we can get that child off the path of criminality as quickly as possible.
In 2001, the Children Bill was enacted. It sought to set out a path for children who got involved in crime to direct them off that path and ensure they could be given a different opportunity to get away from it. Under the Act, a juvenile diversion programme was established. It proposed community-based initiatives that would be availed of by the child instead of him or her being put through the court process and the full criminal justice process. An essential prerequisite of that programme was that the child had to admit and accept responsibility for the criminal activity in which he or she was involved. If that was done, the child would be referred by An Garda Síochána, which is the investigator of the crime, to a juvenile liaison officer and the juvenile diversion programme would kick in. It has been a successful programme. We have seen that not just in Dublin but in other areas. It is a programme we should seek to preserve and protect. It needs somebody in government to take hold of it and make it his or her responsibility to ensure that it is working effectively.
The catalyst for this debate was the disclosure approximately two weeks ago by An Garda Síochána that there were significant failings in its operation of the youth diversion programme. A report on a review by An Garda Síochána gave an indication of the extent of juvenile crime. Between July 2010 and July 2017, there were approximately 158,521 youth referrals to the Garda youth diversion programme, which involved approximately 57,000 children. We know from analyses conducted previously, particularly in 2014, that approximately 10% of all criminal activity is committed by children, so it is a significant proportion of the crime perpetrated in the State.
What was most disturbing about the report prepared by An Garda Síochána is that, ultimately, it revealed that in terms of the number of referrals, between 2010 and 2017, approximately 7,900 referrals were not progressed to a conclusion. That related to approximately 3,500 children. In respect of those 7,900 crimes, there was no conclusion to them. Although the child was referred, nothing happened in respect of him or her. There was no conclusion and in many respects that was doing a disservice to three groups of people. First, it was doing a disservice to the victims of crime. The people who are the victims of crime, whether it is committed by a child or an adult, are entitled to believe that when they make a complaint to An Garda Síochána, the crime will be adequately investigated and, if the individual is apprehended, that the individual will be put through the criminal justice process whether it is an adult through the courts or a child, hopefully, through the youth diversion programme. Those people were first and foremost let down. Second, the people who were also let down were those significant numbers of children who did go through the youth diversion programme and who were told that if they did not go through it, there would be more serious consequences for them and that they would be brought through the courts. They went through the youth diversion programme and they availed of the community-based initiatives yet they now recognise that there was a cohort of other children who did not do the same and there were no consequences for them.
The 3,500 children who committed the crimes and who were not progressed to a conclusion were also let down because every child must be given the opportunity to get away from a path of criminality. Most children are lucky in that they do not get involved in criminality. It is unfair on children to find themselves involved in criminality at a young age. They must take personal responsibility for it but there are also environmental and community responsibilities as well. They were let down.
It is important that we get a response from the Government on what it is proposing to do about the failings in the juvenile diversion programme.