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second chances

There are 844 people under the age of 25 in Irish prisons

Just 20 of them are female.

RECENTLY RELEASED FIGURES show there are 844 people in Irish prisons under the age of 25.

Almost 50 of them are aged 18 or under and 20 of them are female. Out of a total of 3,612 prisoners, this level of under 25s is actually encouraging, according to former Mountjoy Governor John Lonergan.

Speaking to this week, Lonergan described the figure of 844 as “very progressive”.

“It shows that things are progressing in Ireland, we’ve started to put a huge emphasis on diversion, on family support, on community support and so on”, he said.

The courts, in particular, deserve credit for that. They’re obviously making a real effort to improve things and I think in the long-term it will be of immense value.

In the mid nineties, when he was governor at Mounjoy, around two thirds of the prison population were under 27. In the 1960s, he said there were up to 260 boys in St Patrick’s Institution alone.

“72% eventually graduated down to Mountjoy and that was an appalling figure.”

My experience is that once a young person came into the prison system, the vast majority continued to commit crime. Once you have a criminal record and a prison record, the chances of getting work are slip and you can get pushed into that culture. Once you’ve been in once, the deterrent is gone.

The single biggest factor in crimes for young offenders is still drugs, whether directly or indirectly as Lonergan said many were caught after robberies or shoplifting to support their drug habit

What we need to do now, is support community programmes that are doing great work to keep troubled teens on the straight and narrow, according to Lonergan and ensure the Children First Bill is fully enacted.

“All indicators and research show that early intervention and diversion is far more beneficial than prison time.”

Read: Three child detention centres to be made into just one>

Column: We continue to put children in adult prisons. It is utterly unacceptable.>

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