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Child offenders are still slipping through cracks of juvenile diversion scheme to commit serious offences

The scheme had been overhauled after major problems with it became public in 2019.

Image: Shutterstock/Ben Gingell

THE JUVENILE DIVERSION programme, which was at the centre of controversy just two years ago, is still failing to deal appropriately and swiftly with violent young offenders, some of whom are dodging prosecution, TheJournal.ie has learned.

Sources within the judicial system have raised concerns after several high-profile and serious incidents in recent months which involved minors who had already been referred to the Juvenile Diversion Scheme.

The scheme had been overhauled after major problems with it became public in 2019.

Despite the changes, the scheme has remained “slow” and “awkward”, according to those familiar with it. Young offenders who should have been brought before the criminal justice system are not being processed in a timely way, leaving them free to carry out further criminal offences. 

Among the options available to authorities for juveniles who commit crimes are curfew or detainment. 

The original aim of the Juvenile Diversion Programme was to help prevent young offenders in Ireland from entering into the full criminal justice system.

Instead of a criminal conviction, the young person is given the chance to admit to their crime as part of the scheme and is offered one of a range of options to make amends.

Specially-trained garda Juvenile Liaison Officers (JLOs) are assigned to work with them.

Despite the new system as well as the 500 or so disciplinary actions taken as a result of the 2019 controversy, child offenders are still receiving the benefit of a JLO in cases where they don’t fit the criteria, multiple sources familiar with the system have warned. 

For example, TheJournal.ie is aware of at least five cases in the last 12 months where serious crimes were carried out by juveniles who had received several referrals to the scheme.

Two of these cases involved knife crime. 

Another case in the midlands area saw a 15-year-old boy receive four youth referrals in the space of six months. While he was awaiting the decision regarding his latest referral, the teenager carried out several thefts from businesses as well as one attempted mugging of a woman in what sources described as a “rampage”. 

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In 2019, it emerged that 3,500 juveniles had not been prosecuted for crimes that they had committed. These children were considered “habitual re-offenders” by the report and had been deemed unfit for the diversion scheme.

These 3,500 juveniles were responsible for just under 8,000 crimes which gardaí said should have been prosecuted but weren’t. The vast majority of these crimes were for public order offences. However, more serious offences such as assault, rape, aggravated burglary and violent disorder also went unpunished.

As a result of this inaction, various steps were taken to ensure that young offenders deemed unsuitable for the juvenile liaison scheme (JLO) were prosecuted instead. 

Improvements were made to the garda internal computer system. Reminder systems were also introduced to ensure officers were able to keep track of youth offenders. 

An Garda Síochána was contacted for comment.

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