Minister of State at the Department of Justice, James Browne, has today published a discussion paper on diverting young adults aged 18-24 year olds away from entry into the wider criminal justice system. The proposals contained in the discussion paper suggest extending a system similar to the Garda Youth Diversion Scheme to young adults aged 18-24 who offend.
Such a system would provide an alternative to prosecution for minor offences, where it could be determined that a person’s entry into the wider criminal justice system and particularly prison could result in worse outcomes for the individual and society as a whole in the longer term.
Minister Browne outlined these proposals to an audience of over 300 youth justice professionals who gathered in Croke Park today for a one day conference on Youth Justice. The annual conference is an important event in the calendar of youth justice workers, bringing together staff of Youth Diversion Projects across the country and members of An Garda Síochána to discuss current issues and best practice in the field of youth justice.
Speaking at the conference today, Minister Browne said:
“ I have met with numerous Youth Diversion Projects and the message is always the same – every cent invested into building better outcomes for young people, and diverting them away from the criminal justice system, pays back in spades.
“A conviction can result in a chain reaction of negative outcomes for a young person – limiting employment opportunities, preventing them from getting visas to travel abroad, social exclusion – all of which can feed into reoffending cycles, which is not to anyone’s benefit.
“ I am delighted to have secured an additional € 2.5million in Budget 2023, a total of € 30.5 million, to implement the Youth Justice Strategy – this will help us expand these important services to everyone who needs them to create better outcomes for young people.”
Minister Browne continued:
“If we divert an offender away from reoffending, less crime means less victims, which in turn means safer communities.
“Research tells us that young adults, not unlike adolescents, can be particularly vulnerable to peer pressure, difficult personal or socioeconomic factors including substance misuse, and the impact of childhood trauma. On top of that the scientific evidence tells us the human brain and maturity continue to develop beyond adolescence and into your mid-twenties.
“It’s important that we consider the supports and interventions needed for young people as they move into adulthood, as personal circumstances do not just change over night when you turn 18.
“We want to explore whether a comparatively more gentle approach, that focuses less on imprisonment and more on rehabilitation and restorative justice, could offer improved outcomes for all and reduce offending in this age group. “
The paper is intended to provide information on the Department’s thinking on how such a diversion system might be approached, as well as prompt discussions which will further development in this area. The Department of Justice is now inviting submissions by 17th January 2023 on the proposals contained in the discussion paper, and has also opened an online survey for the public to respond to the policy ideas set out therein. Further details on the consultation and the discussion paper can be found at: https://www.gov.ie/en/consultation/bd086-consultation-on-diversion-paths-for-young-adults-aged-18-24
It is intended that there will be targeted consultations with key stakeholders and representative bodies, particularly with regard to issues such as disability, mental health and addiction, as well as the views of crime victims, in the future.
Implementing the Youth Justice Strategy is a key Programme for Government and Justice Plan commitment. It is aligned closely with the Department of Justice’s other policy objectives, particularly around penal policy – the Government approved the publication of the Review of Policy Options for Prison and Penal Reform 2022-2024 in August of this year. Key priorities to emerge from that review included a greater focus on the use of community sanctions as an alternative to imprisonment and implementation of the recommendations of the Taskforce established to consider the mental health and addiction challenges of those imprisoned and primary care support on release.
Reflecting on the wider significance of the Youth Justice Strategy and the discussion paper published today, Minister Browne said:
“As a Government, we are deeply committed to reducing reoffending and improving community safety. There is a lot of work going on in this space, with the bottom line being that there needs to be a whole of Government approach to holistically tackling issues that, while they manifest themselves in criminal behaviour, are not just criminal justice issues – I’m talking about mental health issues, trauma, addiction, access to employment and educational opportunities.
The reality is that young people, under the age of 25, account for the highest percentage of offenders, the biggest cohort in the overall prison population, and are statistically the most likely to reoffend. Evidence tells us this is the cohort that is also one of the most vulnerable to causative influences. We need targeted interventions at an early age to prevent lifelong cycles of offending which are detrimental for the quality of life for individuals and for their communities. That is why the Youth Justice Strategy is so important, and one of my key focuses as Minister.”
A total allocation of €23.8 million was provided in this year’s budget for Youth Justice Services. An additional €2.5 million was allocated in Budget 2023 for the implementation of the Youth Justice Strategy. This follows the additional €6.7 million that was provided in Budget 2022.
The additional funding will help achieve nationwide coverage of the Youth Diversion Projects under the Garda Youth Diversion Programme.
These projects aim to redirect vulnerable young people who have been involved in crime or anti-social behaviour. There is currently a network of more than 100 YDPs throughout the state supporting up to 4,000 children.
Funding for these interventions is based on evidence that diverting young offenders from the criminal justice system, and preventative work with young people at risk, is to their long-term benefit and that of society as a whole.