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.