Plenary 3: Michael Donnellan, Director of the Probation Service

Mr. Donnellan, the Director of the Probation Service, began by giving a brief overview of probation in Ireland and its continued use today. In 2004 the Irish Youth Justice Review decided a dedicated youth probation service was required. In the limited time available to him he wished to highlight some of the options available to the probation when a case is referred to them.

The first of these options is the Family Conference. This is a restorative option that diverts the youth from the core criminal justice system. It is an intervention that can be powerful for the offender; it offers them a voice in proceedings. In court they would not have such an opportunity. It also offers the victim a voice. There have been 140 to date. Donnellan pointed out that the remorse of children was often heartfelt. The victims are often only looking to explain how the offence affected them; they do not wish to be punitive. Donnellan believes that there is a need for more multi-agency conferencing and that conferences should be used sparingly as they can be resource intensive.

The next option that may be used is the Parental Supervision Order. This strengthens the family conference model. It is popular in other jurisdictions. Its core strength is that it involves working with children and parents together. It has been piloted in Cork and is about to extend to other locations around the country. It involves 14 sessions with a multi-agency approach. It costs €10,000 per programme but there may be up to 45 people involved. It works out about €17 per person per night.

Finally, he referred to the Mentor (family support) Order. This was set up by the Le Cheile project and is similar to the buddy programme run in the USA. A youth is assigned a mentor who will help them with their educational and welfare needs. There are currently 70 in Ireland and there is an intention to extend the scheme to parental mentor supports as it has been identified that parents often need as much support as their children.

Donnellan concluded by saying that there are a number of developments in the pipeline such as the introduction of remand fostering rather than detention. It is also their intention to pilot a bail support scheme in Limerick. He hopes to see the introduction of more innovative programmes with some joined up thinking. Finally he made the point that the probation service is currently just a 9-5, Monday to Friday organisation. He stressed that children exist outside these times and need a system that reflects this.

Summary provided by LL.M (Criminal Justice) candidate, John Cronin.

Plenary 3: Assistant Garda Commissioner Louis Harkin

Assistant Garda Commissioner Harkin opened by saying that it is important for the Gardai to be involved in this type of conference in order to get a flavour of what aspects of the system the various organisations and academics believe are in need of improvement. In his paper, Assistant Commissioner Harkin sought to deal primarily with the Gardai’s role in the system and what they can offer in terms of juvenile justice. He began by examining the diversion programme run by the Gardaí. This programme was highlighted several times throughout the two day conference, most notably by Sergeant Ben Flahive who presented a comprehensive power-point during one of the parallel sessions. Harkin indicated the high levels of training undertaken by the Juvenile Liaison Officers to take part in the programme. He highlighted the criteria for inclusion on the programme and the success rates of the programme. He addressed criticisms of the programme saying that critics need to take a more holistic view of the programme. A youth taking part in the programme may re-offend while still working through some behavioural issues and Harkin believes it is unfair to deem work in progress a failure. Harkin also noted the use of the Youth Diversion programme. It is based in the community and seeks to target those most at risk of offending.

He then went on to explain the Restorative Justice Programme. This is a conference where the victim will attend. The offender hopefully realises the effect of the crime on the victim, also that the crime was not just against the victim but against the community as a whole. There were 378 restorative conferences in 2007 and figures show that 60 % do not re-offend in the following 12 months.

He then went on highlight the challenges facing Gardai. It is Harkin’s belief that the delivery of services provided by the Gardai must be effective to both the offender and to society. The multi-agency approach so talked about must be embraced. A large number of people from many cultural and ethnic backgrounds have settled in Ireland in the recent past and a relationship of trust must be built between the Gardai and these new communities. Many of these communities are coming from countries where there are hostile police forces; the Gardai must present themselves as approachable and even-handed.

He concluded by saying that Youth Justice in Ireland is changing dramatically and that the Gardai are looking forward to working closely and developing links with other relevant agencies.

Summary provided by LL.M (Criminal Justice) candidate, John Cronin.

Plenary 3: Michelle Shannon – Irish Policy Makers and Services Providers: Challenges and Reform

Ms. Shannon, National Director of the Irish Youth Justice Service, began her paper by highlighting some of the recent reforms of the youth justice system in Ireland such as the formation of the Irish Youth Justice Service and the Office of the Minister for Children. All provisions of the 2001 Act have now been commenced, more resources have been provided to the Garda Diversion Programme, and more Children’s Court judges have been appointed. The Government have approved the National Youth Strategy 2008-2010 and new detention school facilities.

She then pointed out the goals of the National Youth Justice Strategy and the need for a multi-agency approach. She argued that is gone beyond the time for talking, there is now a need for action and outputs; a Youth Justice Oversight Group has been established and approved by the government to help in this respect. This will include representatives from various agencies and departments that will come together to work on a more holistic basis. At local level Local Youth Justice Teams linked to Children’s Service committees have been established, which seek to develop best practice and interventions are targeted having regard to level of risk.

Shannon pointed out that the 2001 Act compared favourably with international standards and highlighted the need to be aware of international standards and obligations. There needs to be justice, fairness and accountability. All initiatives must also have the confidence of the public. There is a real hope that with this multi-agency approach that there can be a reduction in offending, value for money and efficiency.

Summary provided by LL.M (Criminal Justice) candidate, John Cronin.

Plenary 3: Máiréad Seymour – The Irish Youth Justice System

In Dr. Seymour’s paper she endeavoured to give a brief overview of the Youth Justice System in Ireland as a way of setting the scene for the session. She began by pointing out that developments in this area are relatively new. The Children Act 2001 was the first piece of legislation to deal solely with children since 1908. The 2001 Act has been broadly welcomed but Seymour pointed out the well known problem with its slow implementation. She pointed out that a significant reason behind this delay was the fact that there were a number of departments responsible for children. She went on to add that the Criminal Justice Act 2006 contained several provisions relating to children. This resulted in amendments to some sections of the 2001 Act before they had even been commenced. She then highlighted the fact that a Youth Justice Review took place at the end of 2005 with the Irish Youth Justice System set up in 2006 as a result of this. Seymour pointed out that this conference was timely as the National Youth Strategy 2008-2010 had been published in recent weeks. She concluded her examination of the background of the Irish system by highlighting the dearth and quality of data and research in the area of Youth Justice. However she was confident that this is changing thanks to various third level institutions and interest groups.

Seymour then moved on to point out some of the key aspects of our juvenile justice system. She began by speaking about our age of criminal responsibility which was raised to 12 in the 2001 Act. However, she added that in the 2006 Criminal Justice Act an exception was introduced to charge 10 and 11 year olds with serious offences. The consent of the DPP is required to prosecute a child under the age of 14. Seymour then moved onto explain the Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme. She ran through the eligibility requirements, the responses available and how it all works in practice. She pointed out that the diversion programme has now been extended to 10 and 11 year olds despite the fact that they can only be prosecuted for serious offences at this age as envisaged by the 2006 Act. Garda statistics would indicate that the programme is a resounding success, but Seymour argued that there is limited data and the Garda statistics lack transparency. There are concerns around net widening, the absence of due process that are available in the legal process and the absence of external evaluation. She then briefly reviewed behavioural orders which are a recent addition in Irish law. The breach of this civil order can bring a child into the criminal system but to date no such order has been issued.

Seymour then moved on to the Children’s Court. The 2001 Act has much to say about how these courts should be run. They should take place at a different time and preferably a different place to the normal business of the court to avoid the mixing of juveniles with adult. She pointed out that this is easy in Dublin where there is a dedicated Juvenile Court but more difficult everywhere else. Hearings are in private but if a child is sent forward to the Circuit or Central Criminal Court for trial they may be identified in the media if it is in the public interest. Parents are obliged to be present but often do not come to court. This results in the issue of a bench warrant.

She then highlighted the principles contained in the 2001 Act that form the basis of the system. The child has a right to be heard and to participate, criminal proceedings should not be used to sort out care and protection issues, detention should be a last resort and be for the minimum amount of time possible and the child’s age and maturity should be taken into consideration. She went on to examine some of the sanctions available but emphasised that not all sanctions are in operation due to funding issues. 17 % of cases finalised result in detention. There appears to be a downward trend in the use of custody, but Seymour expressed caution here as the continuous flow of prisoners if counted may give a different result. The main detention facility for those 16 and over is St. Patrick’s Institution. Seymour revealed a statistic that is quite staggering in respect of Pat’s, a third of all detainees are on remand.

She concluded her paper by examining the challenges and issues faced by Ireland. She stressed the need to comply with international standards, the need to co-ordinate the delivery of effective youth justice services and the need to build a knowledge base for youth justice in Ireland.

Summary submitted by LL.M (Criminal Justice) candidate, John Cronin.

Plenary Session 2: Thomas Hammarberg – Youth justice based on child rights norms

Commissioner Hammarberg (Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights) opened his address by highlighting the fact that east is starting to look west as many countries’ systems have failed from a human rights perspective and also from a recidivism perspective. He gave some examples of countries to the east of Europe that have criminal justice systems that are far from desirable; where there is disproportionate imprisonment of ethnic minorities and difficulties within youth detention centres. Having highlighted a number of problems being experienced in the east of Europe, he then went on to focus the remainder of his presentation at Ireland and the UK

The Commissioner noted that he had just arrived from inspecting detention centres in England and a report is due out in 2008. Previous reports have criticised the UK for the large numbers of young people in detention; a situation that Hammarberg noted has yet to be addressed. He also noted in particular the use of restraints in youth detention centres and the ongoing debate as to what types of restraints are permissible. This is an issue that Mr. Hammarberg believes there is a striking focus on in the UK, perhaps more so than in other countries. He then went to note that as the UK is seen by other countries as an important role model, it is imperative that it would bring its system in line with international standards. He referred to the unanimity between academics and practitioners over how the English system ought to operate, but also that media and public opinion may make it difficult to make these changes from a political perspective.

Commissioner Hammarberg then moved on to consider the age of criminal responsibility, which he noted was too low in both the UK and Ireland (in spite of the fact that there is no actual age specified in the international standards). He went on to say that too many young people are being brought into the system and labelled as criminals when in fact they are victims of their background. There are many more detained who should be in special units to tackle their mental issues. He referred briefly to his recent examination of the Irish youth justice system although he could not go into much detail as the report is due out at the end of April. There will be a number of recommendations in the report.

Summary provided by LL.M (Criminal Justice) candidate, John Cronin.