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Thursday 7 December 2023 Dublin: 11°C
Sam Boal/
Youth Referral Programme

'Damaging' garda report to outline how young people who committed violent crimes went unpunished

An audit of 22,000 cases in the youth referral scheme was undertaken last year.

A NUMBER OF violent crimes went unpunished because of massive problems with a youth referral scheme in An Garda Síochána, an official report will reveal later today. 

Described as ‘damaging for the force’ and ‘worrying’ by sources, the interim report from the examination of youth referrals from July 2010 to July 2017 will show how young people wrongly evaded prosecution for years. 

It is understood that a ‘number of cases’ involved violence of a serious nature. 

Last year, senior gardaí were summoned to Garda Headquarters to discuss a ‘massive failure’ in the juvenile prosecution system. It had emerged during an earlier meeting with the Police Authority that almost 13,000 criminal offences by young people may have gone unprosecuted due to problems with the system. 

An audit of 22,000 cases that were put through the Juvenile Diversion Programme was ordered. 

The auditors are now ready to release their first report to the public and it will show failings in the system eventually led to its total breakdown in some cases. 

“Today’s report is going to be very damaging to the gardaí,” a source with knowledge of the process told “It’s a monumental mess.” 

What is the Juvenile Diversion Programme?

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 was 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.

Once the young person admits responsibility for their actions, an action plan is created – this can include apologising to the victim of their crimes, offering money to them, imposing curfews on the offender or ensuring they participate in sporting or other recreational activities.

What happened?

Previously, the young people in the diversion programme were placed on a centralised list which gave gardaí blanket approval to proceed with their prosecution.

However, that system was then changed so that individual JLOs had to contact the original arresting garda informing them if the suspect is not (or is no longer) eligible for the scheme. In such instances, a prosecution should have been pursued. 

It is believed that the workload created by having to create a referral for each offence, for each offender, ground the system to a halt. The offenders’ cases lingered until a point where their offences – even if rediscovered – could no longer be prosecuted as they exceeded the statute of limitation.

The report will show that no action at all was taken on a significant number of cases which were returned by JLOs as ineligible for the programme. 

In September, reported how a teenager – who later became a suspect in the violent death of a man – avoided potential criminal prosecution at least eight times because of the issues experienced in the youth referral system. 

The minor received the orders after allegedly committing offences such as drug possession, aggravated burglary, assault causing harm and car theft. Sources said he showed few signs of remorse and that there had been multiple complaints to the local station about his behaviour.  

Commissioner Drew Harris is to appear before the Policing Authority to discuss the interim report this afternoon. 

With reporting by Michelle Hennessy, Garreth MacNamee, Sinéad O’Carroll and Christine Bohan 

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